Pixels Versus People

Daddy Derek August2017
Photo by Derek James
Making a hands-on board game can be as much fun or more than playing digital games, and encourages creativity and family time.

I’m going to make an unofficial guess here, but it’s based on observation. I’ll wager that you check your smartphone anywhere from 50 to 75 times a day — give or take a dozen times. With that in mind, how many times a day do you check on your kids? The truth is that unless you have a newborn, you’re probably checking your Facebook and Instagram accounts more than you check on the little human(s) you birthed or conceived. Now try and tell me cell phone addiction isn’t a problem.

I’ve read stories where kids as young as 13 are being sent to a center in Seattle for cell phone addiction treatment. That’s because these days, so many adults are handing them a digital dopamine pump that even grown-ups with fully developed brains have trouble putting down. Parents who have taken those phones away for overuse or bad behavior have seen their kids react the same way a drug addict would if they could no longer get their fix. Anyone with kids can tell you that asking a 9-year-old to self-regulate when under- or over-stimulated is no easy task. If you can’t go a few hours without your phone, how can you expect your children to have stronger willpower?

Believe me when I tell you that I’m not perfect, nor do I have all the answers. My boys, ages 6 and 9, don’t have cell phones and won’t for a very long time. They of course ask to use mine or my wife’s. My go-to reason when I tell them no is that “I don’t have enough battery life.” It works because it’s kind of  true. My smartphone typically has less than 25 percent charge because I’m not on it enough myself. I don’t check it much and I don’t recharge it very often. When I’m at home, I often don’t even know where it is, so that excuse works, too.

I’m trying to show my kids that my cell phone is a tool and not a lifestyle. So many parents have made their cell phone the centerpiece of their lives. Kids can pick up on this early and think they too must have a phone to be happy. Phones should be off and away during dinner, at church and at kids’ sporting events. If you could see a kid’s face after Mom or Dad missed their big play, that’d immediately cure you of the habit.

I like to give millennials a hard time as much as anyone, but a lot of my fellow Gen-Xers have just as hard a time making eye contact as the younger set. “Candy Crush” is so popular with the 35-plus crowd that it’s been turned into a primetime game show hosted by Mario Lopez. The Game Show Network recently launched a show where people decode emojis. At this rate, it won’t be long before players on “Wheel of Fortune” are solving hashtags.

I love technology as much as the next person. I use my device to read the news, check IMDB to figure out what other things an actor I’m watching on TV has been in, and I even pay a few bills via my smartphone. I’m not blaming the technology. It’s a tool.

Kids crave positive attention; it keeps them excited and encourages them to strive to do more and get better. As I’ve tried to spend less time on my phone and, to a lesser extent, in front of my computer, I’ve noticed that my kids have fewer problems with acting out. Why? It’s because they are no longer competing for my attention. Our kids need our direct attention. It’s our responsibility to make sure they have that attention.