I have a favorite lakeside park that I frequent to bird watch or power walk (really, I bird watch!). There is always a mixed demographic of visitors there, both families and singles, old and young. But practically every time I’m at this park I see something that bothers me to no end. It’s the Cell Phone Distracted Parent.
It’s always the same scene: one adult gabbing away intently on their cell phone while holding the hand of a young child who is staring blankly, grasping their sippy cup and watching the world go by.
This is a beautiful park with lots going on. There is a lake that is filled with swimming ducks and turtles. There are cranes and ospreys circling overhead. There are steps to climb and bridges to cross. There are a hundred different kinds of flowers, dancing fountains, and music playing. In other words, a whole world of discovery for a kid who has a little bit of adult guidance.
But these parents don’t see any of it. Their conversations are more important. They seem to think just being physically present is quality time. But merely being in the same vicinity as your child does not equate to actually spending time with them. These children are aching for interaction.
When I was little, my mom would take me to the park and we’d bring the stale bread crusts she’d saved for such an event, and we’d feed the ducks and seagulls. She’d point out flowers and tell me what they were named and we’d smell them. She’d challenge me to walk across curb as if I was on a balance beam. It wasn’t advanced child psychology, it was simple parent-child interaction, stimulating my interest in the world and opening me up to new things. Common as though they might seem to an adult, everything is new to kids that young.
People complain about the current generation of teenagers and young adults being disinterested in the world outside of their texting circles. Wait till this next batch of young’ns gets to be that age! It’s going to be a whole generation of glazed-eyed, non-verbalizing teenagers who are clueless about anything beyond their own backyards.
Why are these parents SO disinterested in their own children? And why don’t they realize it’s going to bite them in the ass big time when their children grow up to be completely disinterested in not only the world and their future, but disinterested in their own parents, as well?
I saw a woman at this same park on her cell phone, and when her toddler daughter squealed upon seeing ducks take flight, the mom shook the child’s arm sternly because obviously the child’s delight was interrupting the phone call. I just wanted to take the girl’s hand and say to the mother, “Give her to me! You go sit down and finish what I can only assume must be a multi-billion dollar business negotiation, given your devotion to it. I will take your daughter to see the ducks until you are finished, because I would HATE for some quacking to ruin your phone call!”
It makes me sad. These kids aren’t old enough to judge their parents for the stupid things they do. But they are old enough to crave attention, and it’s a genuine desire to have that attention from their parent. I may not remember every outing my parents took me on, but I gained something from all of them. Maybe it was nothing more than learning that you can see shapes of animals in the clouds, or that if you look close enough you can see minnows on the banks of the river. But I remembered doing things, and I remember the interaction. I remembered that I mattered in those moments. Certainly more than any phone call.