Want a way to instantly double the time you spend with the people you love?
Put down your phone when you’re with them.
If you drop your kids at school each day but spend the whole time on your Bluetooth taking calls, you’re not with them. The time doesn’t count. We send a clear message to our children – and our friends – each time we drop our attention away from them and check an update, send a text, or answer a call: you may be in front of me, but I’m choosing to devote my attention to something else.
I’ve had some of the best, and worst, conversations in a car. Especially with kids, there is something about the lack of eye contact that brings a different element to the fore. One time, my then 4 and 7-year-olds decided to ask where babies come from. I was trapped, which they knew, and we proceeded to have an enlightening, delicate ten minute conversation on the origins of life. Specifically, theirs.
But over the years, the technology that has given us so much has stolen so much more. Multitasking isn’t a thing; it just means you do a lot of things badly at the same time. Our brains are wired to do one thing at a time if we want to do it well. You may think you’re solving a crisis at the office while you drive the kids to school, but that’s three things: work, driving, kids. We all know the result of people ignoring the road when they engage their brain outside the car, but you’re also ignoring what many consider the most important thing in their lives: their families. So prove it.
Don’t get me wrong; screaming toddlers locked in child seats is a huge distraction, and a dangerous one. On trips, my mom used to be tasked with keeping us quiet so Dad could drive; it helped that she wasn’t scrolling through her Facebook feed when we went anywhere.
The interconnectivity of our vehicles has brought outside distraction into one of the last bastions of escape, solitude even. Where once you could count on some disconnect time to talk to your passengers, listen to music or think original things, now the slow drip feeding tube of 24-hour electronic attention has reached the saturation point. News, traffic and weather updates? Sure. How many people liked that last picture you posted? Nonsense.
Hang up and drive, indeed. Hang up and acknowledge your passengers.
A recent in The Atlantic delves into the dangers of too much screen time – for parents. We’re right to worry about how much time all ages spend peering into some device – preschoolers are reportedly at about four hours a day – but I would gladly have watched four hours of television at that age (and there were days nobody would have stopped me, I’m sure), so that argument needs a large asterisk beside it.
I have no quarrel with how most parents adapt technology into their children’s lives; it’s not my business because I’m not a scientist nor am I their mother. Each generation has its thing, and it’s hypocritical to pretend the good old days were necessarily all that great. Cars are incredibly safer, you can shut howling kids up on a long trip by streaming a video and they can play things more engaging than the licence plate game.
No, the problem is increasingly becoming not just one of how much time our children spend enthralled in a device, neck bent (in what can only be a chiropractor’s dream/nightmare) and warp speed thumbs, but us. What are we taking from them when we consistently remove our attention?
Children are processing the world and you are the filter for that. What happens in front of our windshield has led to discussions as far ranging as homelessness, stunt driving, the aforementioned sex ed, and if a possum is an opossum. The thing is, you never know when the really important stuff will drop, because kids are like that. For every sulky, quiet ride, there has been an enlightening one – for one of us.
Your attention is really all they want. And the most historic non-verbals- the teens – need you more than ever. I know they have their noses buried in their own devices and their own games. But by maintaining a tether outside the car that keeps you from being engaged within it, you risk letting the opportunities be lost forever.
Ditch the non-essentials. Share playlists, share conversation, share silence.