Reflecting back on the first cell phone that I became aware of in 1985, called the Motorola 8000X, which affectionately became knowns as ‘The Brick,’ due to it weighing 28 ounces (840g), I don’t think anyone of my generation, outside of those in the industry, foresaw them becoming as widely used as they are today.
In reality, to my generation, they were a novelty for the rich and famous, since they had a price tag of approximately $4,000.
And while today I am now an avid cell phone user, I am very happy that their popularity and affordability did not come into being until my kids were well into their teen years, as I believe my generation dodged a bad habit, whereby young parents who are so enthralled with what they are connecting to on their cell phone screens completely miss the connection that they should be making with their own children.
The latest example of what I believe is a disheartening misstep by many young parents played out in front of me as I was walking across the field at Laityview elementary. Returning from my walk, I spotted a young dad sitting on the edge of the playground wall, focussed on his phone as his two kids, probably four and two years of age, played in the sand pile.
I have seen a number of young parents engrossed on their phones while walking their kids, pushing them on a playground swing, or, in this case, while the kids are playing, but this young dad epitomized to me where we as a society have gone wrong with our attachment to our phones.
Not only was he oblivious to his two kids, outside of the occasional glance at them to make sure they were still in the vicinity, he also had a dog, off leash, that, like his kids, was left to its own devices to the point that, when another parent pushing a baby buggy and maneuvering a dog on leash approached the playground, the cell dad’s dog was free to run circles around them.
Luckily both dogs were friendly, but the challenge that it provided the dad pushing the buggy, now tangled up in his dog’s leash, was lost on ‘cell dad,’ who had no clue of his dog’s actions.
I know ‘cell dad’ is not the norm, but there are still enough parents showing up at parks, restaurants and other public venues who seemingly can’t, or at least are opting to not put their phones down long enough to have a meaningful connection with their child during the outing.
It is sad to think that cell phones have such a grip on our society that something as basic and as rewarding as interacting with a child while pushing them on a swing, or over a meal is being swapped out for a solitude, electronic interaction, which offers nothing to the relationship with the child.
According to the November 2017 edition of Psychology Today, a number of studies conclude that there is a negative impact on the development of children from parents who spend too much time on their smartphones.
Dona Mathews, Phd., posted a number of current studies speaking to the issue of smartphone distractions and she concluded: “Young children are closely attuned to their parents’ attention.
They depend on that attention for their survival, of course, but also for their social and emotional development. Several recent research studies show the damage parents can do when they’re physically present, but distracted and less responsive because they’re attending to their smartphones.”
I stated up front that I was glad our generation dodged this bullet, as I don’t know how I would have been if I had the option to zone out while my kids played around me in a park like ‘cell dad’ opted to do, as we all know how tiring parenting is.
But I hope I would have still mustered up the energy to take every opportunity to interact with my kids while they still thought I was important, because once they become teenagers, parents turn stupid real fast and you need to draw on those early connections to keep them engaged.
And having come out on the other side of raising kids to adulthood, I feel strongly that taking every opportunity to have meaningful connections helped in the long run, especially in the early years, which looking back seem so fleeting.
Thankfully, there are a lot of young parents who make the choice to put their phones away when they are with their kids. As for ‘cell dad,’ hopefully he sees the light before 10 years fly by and his, at 14 or 12 years old, see no reason to talk to him.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and
currently president of ARMS.