The other night after dinner when all the kids scattered in their various directions, I grabbed my cellphone to do a quick check of email. One email sent me to a website and that website sent me to Twitter, which sent me to another website and then, of course, I had to do a quick Facebook check-in. You never know who might have "liked" my status updates. You know what I mean, don't you?
Then, my 11-year-old walked back into the room, but before he arrived, I quickly clicked off my phone, placing it down as I moved toward to kitchen to start the dishes.
As if I had been caught doing something wrong, my sixth grade son said to me, "You just put away your phone when I walked into the room, didn't you? I heard you shut it off."
Man, I had been had for sure. It's like he knew I was indeed feeling guilty for being on my phone.
But what was my offense? Checking email? Texting? Facebooking? Tweeting? Reading something online? Why was I feeling guilty?
I think because I really feel this technological device has become addictive to me, and that we as parents need to learn to shut off our electronics and be fully present with our children. The very bit of advice we are always drilling into our kids. Indeed, it's not just kids who have the problem, but it's adults.
I am sixmonths new to the iPhone-Internet-at-your-finger-tips phenomenon. I seemed to be one of the last holdouts to this plugged-in-every-moment generation. Before I broke down and took the financial nosedive to own the iPhone 5, I never quite understood how people could constantly be checking email and hanging out on the Internet and posting on Facebook and Twitter from their phones.
I'd mutter to myself, deep down, as I silently judged: "Can't it just wait? And who cares that you are in Starbucks getting a double macchiato with soy milk?"
But now, I am one of them and I see where it can be so addictive.
I've always been a news and information junkie since growing up in southeast Portland with Good Morning America during breakfast and the Wall Street Journal on our doorstep and The Evening News with Walter Cronkite while my mom was making dinner. And now, as a freelance journalist the past 18 years, news and information continue to be my world.
Yet, I also recognize that there has to be a limit, somehow.
Being on our electronic devices, updating our status and replying immediately to texts and emails can be annoying to those who are in our presence. Live. In real time.
Especially our children.
I think kids can feel lonely and alone and separate while in the company of their friends and parents and other adults as each is individually on their electronic devices.
So, I made a vow to myself to not be on the computer or my cellphone when my children walk in the door after coming home from school. All three of my children who are still at home are involved in sports, so they do not get home from school sometimes until after 5 p.m. as it is. It's important for them to know that I am fully present with them just as much as I insist on them being fully present with me -- and off their cellphones -- during key moments at home, like at dinnertime and in the car.
We all need to have people's full attention, and that is just not possible when people are staring at their screens 24/7, with the world at their fingertips.
My husband works as a mechanical engineer, and during a recent work meeting, he noticed that many others who were at that meeting were looking down at their phones; he told me that at one point, the person who was running the meeting got fed up and politely but firmly asked everyone to please put their phones away.
One writer friend of mine who is in her mid 20's asks her friends when she invites them over for dinner to put their phones in a basket so they will not be distracted.
Our phones are just too addictive.
At my high school-aged twin sons' recent back-to-school night, the parents of students had the chance to meet their children's teachers and to hear a bit about what is going on in each of their classes.
Interestingly, my twins' Advanced Placement English Composition teacher, Mr. West, before he began his course presentation, jokingly but actually quite seriously said to the group of parents gathered, "OK, So, who's got their phones out right now? Please hold them up."
There was a bit of a chuckle as we all looked around and began guiltily raising our cellphones up in the air, as if we had been "had." Man, I'd been had once by my 11-year-old and now by my 16-year-old twins!
My sons' teacher then explained the background of those instructions.
"My students -- your children -- told me that you would all have your cellphones out tonight and that you might be distracted with them during this time that we are together, and so they told me to ask you to put your phones away."
Wow, do our kids know us too well, or what? Our kids see our addiction to technology.
So, with us parents holding up our phones, Mr. West then said, "OK, now we need to do just that, all turn our phones off and put them away while I share with you the curriculum of your child's AP Comp class."
All the parents in the presentation that Mr. West gave listened and shut their phones off as they put them away while smiling just a bit.
Kids! Got to love them. Indeed, they see through us and are point-blank honest.
May we listen to their wisdom.
Which they probably gleaned from us.