“Dad, quit looking at your stupid phone.” My seven year old uttered those words to me on a beautiful fall day while we were playing at the park.
I should be more clear. She was playing at the park. I was playing on my phone.
Her words cut me to the core.
The irony of our 21st century social lives
There’s something incredibly ironic about social media. Oftentimes, the very thing it’s supposed to do – connect us and make us “social” – prevents us from engaging in the real world in front of our eyes.
There is a mountain of difference between being near physically and being near emotionally. Absence in presence is much more damaging than absence in body.
I’m learning that proximity does not equate to presence. And most of the time my lack of engagement is due to my eyes being fixed on a screen instead of my wife or kids.
Is it just me or dads, have you caught yourself doing any of the following in the last week:
- Telling your kids, “hold on, daddy’s almost done”.
- Checking your phone from your bed while you’re in it with your wife.
- Just one more email, promise.
- Feeling better about the comments someone left on your FB or Instagram post than you do about a nice comment from a loved one.
- Tweeted, texted or any other social media verb while driving with your kids in the car.
- Scrolled through your feeds during a meal with your family.
- Posed, rearranged, and/or planned the “perfect” photo for you to upload to your accounts.
My list could go on forever. My guess is yours could too.
There is hope…and help
This isn’t a charge to abandon your digital lives forever or hit you with the guilt stick. I’m the worst offender after all.
And more than that, I believe social media has an absolute ton of value. To do good. To bring about change. To connect us to influencers and people in all corners of the world.
My hope though is that slowly but surely, you’ll start to notice the times you choose your digital lives to the detriment of your physical lives.
My hope is that you’ll begin to leverage social media for its original intent and not be addicted to it as a false sense of connection.
My hope is that you’ll find more times to leave the phone behind and be fully engaged in the present.
Three questions have helped me grow in my awareness of my problem:
Do I need my phone here?
Maybe it’s dinner out with your family or even a simple walk, but chances are you can go 30-90 minutes without your phone. I’m learning that the times I leave it in the car or on the counter, I’m much more engaged with the real conversations happening in front of me.
What could I have done instead?
If I saw a report each week of the amount of attention I gave social media, I don’t think I’d be proud of my productivity. I can make a million excuses for not being in better shape, not eating healthier, not taking my wife on more dates, not writing that book I’ve always dreamed about. But the reality is I’ve given my attention to lesser things not necessarily better things.
Who do I care about the most?
Not revolutionary but it’s a good reminder that my loyalty and best affections should be saved for those I care about the most. What was I so engaged in that day at the park when my daughter told me to quit looking at my phone? I have no idea. Sure it seemed important or interesting at the time but not at the expense of being emotionally absent even though I was physically present.
Dads, start setting the tone with your families by displaying your love for them more than your digital friends. I promise you won’t miss that much.
We’ll be here for you whenever you’re finished being with them.