Sometimes I feel like a bad parent for looking at my phone while my daughter plays. Why am I ignoring her in favour of this device? Why am I looking at Twitter or Facebook instead of watching and sharing the joy she feels from bouncing up and down on a giant jumping pillow? Why are so many other parents doing the same as me?
So many of us are addicted to our phones. At any possible opportunity, we whip out our boredom shields. Are we afraid of being alone with our own thoughts?
Plenty has been written by people more knowledgeable than me about the addictive nature of the dopamine hits from checking your phone, and how the tech giants of Silicon Valley are able to leverage the science of attention to keep us hooked.
We’re all susceptible, but somehow it feels like parents are more so. Why are these weapons of mass distraction so appealing, especially for parents of young children?
Parents often talk about the joy and the tears, but you don’t often hear so much about the boredom of parenthood. Yes, it can be intense sometimes, but at others, there are long stretches of tedium. There are only so many hours of child’s play that most adults can handle - once you’ve seen one playground, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Faced with the prospect of an hour sitting in the cafe of a soft play centre, who can blame you for trying to see what else is going on in the world?
To look at your phone can be to snatch a few moments where your attention isn’t being demanded by your darling little tyrant, to have the rare experience of something that feels like “me time”.
We have so many demands on our attention, so much incoming noise, that it isn’t easy to do much else. Between the bombardment of demands and the sleep deprivation, you don’t have the mental energy to do anything more challenging than check Facebook or Twitter. There’s no way that you’ll be able to do anything complicated until you’ve put the child to bed, and by then you’re ready to sleep yourself.
Was it all different when I was a kid? Was it an age where children were seen and not heard? Are we breeding a generation of attention seekers? Perhaps it’s a vicious circle - our children want more attention because we’re ignoring them, plugged into the matrix, so they pester us, and because they pester us, we seek escape through our screens. What will be the long-term effect on this generation of seeing their parents constantly tapping and swiping at screens?
I don’t know, but I’ve uninstalled the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone. Not so much because I’m taking the moral high ground and pledging to pay more attention to my daughter (although that might be a happy side-effect). The main reason is that I’ve realised that they’re a bad influence on me. Hearing about the latest outrage was making me unhappy. I’m not going on a digital detox or anything like that, but I’ve realised that there’s no point in constantly trying to distract myself from my surroundings, that I don’t feel better informed - I just feel overwhelmed, and my faith in humanity is diminished. Maybe by disconnecting I’ll be able to become more connected to my surroundings, in some small way. Maybe by opening myself up to boredom, I’m encouraging myself to think more. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it - it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.