The Chat: Sadly, smartphones give busy signals

JOY:I just saw one of the saddest things I've seen in a while. We were on a road trip, and stopped at a fast food place for a break. We sat where we could see a young mom and presumably her daughter, about age 4. We were there for a good 20 minutes and not once did that mom look up from her phone to see what her daughter was doing. No interaction at all. The girl just ate, looking sad, and the mom was totally involved in her iPhone.

MISSIE:That's awful. Twenty minutes is an eternity for a child.

JOY:I just wanted to shake that mom and say, "Pay attention to your child!"

MISSIE:Was the kid clamoring for her attention?

JOY:Not at all. She seemed like she'd given up. Like, "Well, Mom's on her phone; no point in trying to get her attention." We don't need to give 100 percent attention all the time, but this situation had such a sad air about it.


JEN:I've seen kids trying to engage their parents in conversation — telling stories or saying, "Did you see that?" — while their parents stare at their phones and ignore them. I want to scream, "You're missing the good stuff! Someday that little person is NOT going to want to talk to you, and you are going to regret this!"

MISSIE:What's happened? Too often, even when we're listening to our kids or friends, we aren't making eye contact. We're looking down at a device. And God forbid we ignore the "beep" of an email or instant message for five minutes to give our attention to the human standing in front of us.

JEN:I'm going to play devil's advocate for a minute: I wonder how many times someone has seen me ignoring my kids because I'm talking to friends or I'm on the phone, and has had these same thoughts. Because you know it's happened.

MISSIE:Right. And what about the mom who's just spent a crazy morning with her kids running all over, playing with them, and now that they're safe at the playground, she's checking her email and having some "online" adult interaction while they play? If her kids aren't clamoring for attention, who cares?

JOY:I don't promote helicopter parenting. Parents need time without kids. This girl just looked really sad. That's different than if she was playing.

JEN:It IS sad. We have our children for a short time. We need to be present. This is one of the primary reasons I don't have a smartphone. I feel like I could be one of those obnoxious people who can't quit staring at it. I don't want to be that person.

MISSIE:What I hate is when someone IS "present," then the minute their phone beeps, it's like Pavlov's dog. They stop the interaction and check it. Drives me insane. Like that message is more important than what we were just saying.

JOY:Have you seen the security camera video where the mom is texting and her baby rolls into the subway tracks in a stroller?



JOY:Yes, seriously. The train ran over the baby and stroller, but, amazingly, the baby was OK.


JOY:I know. It just makes you want to puke.

JEN:Smartphones are turning people into idiots. When did a text message become more important than your kid? It's like we can't miss whatever stimuli — a Facebook comment, an email, a text — comes at us. We. Must. Know. Right. Now.

JOY:It's all there an hour later. Why do we feel like we need to respond right now?

JEN:It's curious, isn't it? Everything has become so immediate. And I'm guilty, too. I'll be writing a column, and I'll hear the "ding" indicating I have a new email, and I have to stop myself from checking it right then.

MISSIE:Maybe it's because that message is more interesting than what we're supposed to be doing. Which brings us back to this point: Perhaps whatever our kids are saying isn't interesting enough to switch our attention?


JEN:That's the message that mom was giving her daughter that day: My phone is more important, more interesting, more fun than YOU. I would rather stare at this phone than look into your eyes.

JOY:Exactly. What is that doing to kids in the long run?

JEN:It's teaching them a big lesson, isn't it? That electronics are more important than people. It's ironic. By "connecting" online, we're becoming increasingly disconnected from what's real — our families.


MISSIE:As technology gets more advanced, it'll get worse before it gets better. I think we can only be an example for our own kids, and maybe — just maybe — they will be an example for others.

JEN:Here's hoping.

Jen Koski is a Post-Bulletin columnist and associate editor at Rochester Magazine. She and her husband, Jay, live in Rochester with their 10- and 13-year-old sons.

Joy Larson lives in Rochester with her husband. She is the mother of three, grandmother of seven, nurse and freelance writer.


Missie Freetly is a stay-at-home mom who works occasionally as a substitute paraprofessional for Rochester Public Schools. She and her husband, Neil, have been married for 16 years and have a daughter, 12, and son, 13.


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