Husband & Wife Articles


 

Be There for Them

Face-to-face beats Facebook when it comes to our kids

By Brandon Vogt

About once a week, my wife and I take our kids to a local indoor playground. We usually know what to expect: dozens of kids running around and screaming chaotically. If you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether you were in an orangutan exhibit or the midst of the apocalypse.

But something else strikes me each time we go. After setting our kids loose, I glance around at the other parents and almost to a person, each one sits in the same odd position: head bent down at a 45-degree angle, eyes glued to a small screen, fingers quickly tapping as if they were playing a miniature piano.

Despite the fact that the most surprising and wonderful creatures in the world are zig-zagging right in front of them, their attention is locked onto their iPhones. In fact, one day I was sitting next to a mom who was playing Space Invaders on her phone for half an hour. Her son came up to her several times, tugging on her forearm and begging for her to watch him do what can only be described as a mix between Irish dancing and karate, but she waved him off again and again.

Because she was too busy with Space Invaders.

Now I’ll admit that I’ve done the same thing many times. I’ve ignored my kids in favor of cell phones and computers. In fact, I remember one day I was so absorbed in writing an email, that I didn’t even notice my son who kept pulling on my forearm, begging me to play. Whether we’re talking about television, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or text messaging, I’ve chosen it over my kids at some point.

However in the past few months, I’ve tried to turn things around. All of these mistakes taught me an important key to being a good father in today’s world:

Hang up!

That short yet difficult command can often be the hinge on which good fatherhood swings. For example, picture yourself pulling in your driveway after a long day at work. There are two possible ways you can enter your house and greet your family. One way is to cross the threshold mired in a phone call, casually waving off the kids as they run to you. Another way, however, is to walk in, fully present, ready to play and laugh and listen. If you signal to your kids that a phone call is more important, they may begin to look elsewhere for attention.

Now hanging up can be difficult. Sometimes there are calls you just have to take or emails that must be sent right away. But if you need a couple more minutes to finish a call, one solution is to park somewhere else for a few minutes and wrap it up. Sure, you may get home a couple of minutes later than planned, but it ensures that you’ll be present to your kids from the moment you arrive.

Another way I make sure I’m off the phone is to not accept any phone calls on the drive home. If I do pick up a call, I politely wrap it up as I enter the neighborhood, saying, “Well, I’m just pulling up to the house and the kids are waiting outside…” If you’re talking to a family member or friend, they’ll get the hint.

No child ever says to his or her dad, “You spend way too much time with me! Why don’t you take a couple hours to fiddle with your cell phone or pop off some emails?” But many children grow up wishing their dad had paid more attention to them.

So when you’re talking with your kids, turn off your phone. When it’s time for dinner, put your devices away. If you’re at the park, the playground, a restaurant, or church, unplug completely.

Pocketing your phone and shutting down your laptop are simple things to do, but they’re some of the most powerful ways to show your kids how much they truly matter.

Brandon Vogt, who blogs at BrandonVogt.com, is the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet (Our Sunday Visitor). He and his wife live with their two children (and one soon to be born) in Casselberry, Florida.