About once a week, my wife and I take our kids to a local indoor playground. The scene is pretty consistent: dozens of kids running around, screaming chaotically, in a place indistinguishable from an orangutan exhibit during the apocalypse.
But something else strikes me each time we go. After setting our kids loose, I glance around at the other parents and almost to a person, each one sits in the same position. They lean forward with their head bent down, eyes glued to a small screen, fingers tapping quickly as if they were playing a miniature piano.
Despite the fact that the most wondrous creatures in the world are zig-zagging and tumbling mere feet away, their attention is locked onto their iPhones. In fact, one day I was sitting next to a mom who was playing Space Invaders on her phone for half an hour. Her son came up to her several times, tugging on her forearm and begging for her to watch what can only be described as a mix between Irish dancing and karate, but she waved him off again and again.
Because she was too busy. Too busy with Space Invaders.
Now I’ll admit that I’ve done the same thing many times. I’ve ignored my kids in favor of cell phones and computers. In fact, I remember one day I was so absorbed in writing an email, that I didn’t even notice my son who kept pulling on my forearm, begging me to play. Whether we’re talking about television, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or text messaging, I’ve chosen all of it over my kids at some point.
However in the past few months, I’ve tried to turn things around. I’ve learned an important key to being a good parent in today’s world:
This short but difficult command can be the hinge of quality parenthood. For example, picture yourself pulling in your driveway after a long day at work. There are two ways you to enter your house. One way is to open the door mired in a phone call, casually waving off the kids as they run to you. Another, however, is to walk in, fully present, ready to play and laugh and listen. If you choose the first way, you signal to your kids that a phone call is more important than them. If you choose the second way, you show, even without speaking, that nobody else matter more.
Now hanging up can be difficult. Sometimes there are calls you just have to take or emails that must be sent right away. But if you need a couple more minutes to finish a call, you might consider parking somewhere else for a few minutes to wrap it up. Sure, you may get home a couple of minutes later than planned, but you’ll be present to your kids from the moment you arrive.
Another way I make sure I’m off the phone is to not accept any phone calls on the drive home. If you pick up a call, you’ll likely continue it. On those rare occasions when I do answer, though, I politely wrap it up as I enter the neighborhood, saying, “Well, I’m just pulling up to the house and the kids are waiting outside…” If you’re talking to a family member or friend, they’ll get the hint.
No child ever says to his or her dad, “You spend way too much time with me! Why don’t you take a couple hours to fiddle with your iPhone or pop off some emails?” But many children grow up wishing their dad or mom had paid more attention to them.
So when you’re talking with your kids, turn off your phone. When it’s time for dinner, put your devices away. If you’re at the park, the playground, a restaurant, or church, choose to unplug.
Pocketing your phone and closing your computer are simple things to do, but they’re some of the most powerful ways to show your kids how much you truly care for them.
Originally posted at FathersForGood.org.