Writing for The New York Times, pediatrician Perri Klass turns a sympathetic eye on what the American Academy of Pediatrics has dubbed “distracted parenting.” Klass explains that the adult obsession with screen time is, to a great extent, totally understandable. Why? Because kids are, well, boring:
The guilt around parental screen time can become another way to make us feel more profoundly ashamed that we are not the parents we hoped we would be — it’s not just that we’re lackluster parents because we’re scrolling and swiping, it’s also that we’re scrolling and swiping because we’re bored in the company of our darlings.
Has anyone stopped to ask why parents are bored? Or are we just going to accept the age-old excuse regarding children that boils down to the younger the dumber? Is it enough to accept the idea that children are our intellectual inferiors, therefore we have the right to prefer staring at our phones to interacting with our children?
It couldn’t be that parents are bored because thanks to our phones adults now have less of an attention span than a goldfish. Sure, we’re great at multitasking. We’re also horrible at “filtering out irrelevant stimuli.” If something doesn’t attract us within mere seconds we’re most likely going to reach for our phones out of habit. In one survey, the average user flipped between laptop, cell phone and tablet 21 times in one hour. If “[t]he paradox of parenting is that the actual minutes and hours can creep” it’s probably because we’ve trained our brains to seek out new stimulus faster than a pet fish can swim a lap.
I’m no sanctimommy. A few months ago I recognized that I was starting to fall into the technology trap, staring at my phone way more than I should in general, let alone while parenting. I consciously made the decision to remove certain social media apps from my phone, forcing myself to sit at my desktop computer if I wanted to check my feeds. I knew I’d only be able to do this twice a day: during naptime and after bedtime. This not only helped me to focus more on my son, it helped me prioritize the information I process over the course of a day. I quickly began to realize how much information I was taking in that I simply didn’t need to know. Parenting became easier with a clear head that could also easily focus on catching up on news and with friends when time allowed.
Everyone needs their personal space, but parents aren’t bored because they lack space. They’re bored because their brains are informational hamster wheels running on never-ending cycles. Couple this neurological adaptation with the cultural perception that “real work equals paid work” and the resulting “invisibility” felt by many stay-at-home mothers and you have the perfect recipe for ultimate distraction. Another lesson I learned by turning away from my phone: There are plenty of opportunities for personal and even professional growth in my local community. As Leslie Loftis recently pointed out, “Consultants for once-professional mothers who are looking to get back into the workforce often have to counsel women to include big volunteer jobs in their opt-out days.” Perhaps because they’re too distracted catching up on (read: being intimidated by) what “more important things” other female colleagues are being paid to do.
Children are a constant source of fascination and amusement. When parented correctly we will learn from them as much as they learn from us. Devaluing them as “boring” because they work differently than a smartphone is insulting to them and to us. After all, we are their creators. If we find them boring we have no one to blame but ourselves.