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Learning and failing to put down my phone and pay attention to my kids

Posted April 20
Updated 5:42 a.m. Friday

Putting the phone down isn't always easy, but a new perspective made Erin Stewart rethink what she's actually viewing. (Deseret Photo)

I vowed I would never be one of those moms who was always on her phone. The mom who is checking Facebook, looking at pictures of other people’s children while her own swings at the park right in front of her.

So I held out on even getting a smartphone for a long time. When I traded in my flip-phone, the store clerks all came over to marvel at my black-and-white relic of a communication device.

Now, years later, I’m afraid I’ve gone to the dark side.

I try. Oh, I try. I’ve tried all the things that are supposed to help me put down the phone and live in the moment. I put my phone in the backseat so I’m not tempted to take a quick look at stoplights. I have a designated charging spot at home so I don’t always have my phone with me. I remind myself to put the phone down when my child or husband is talking to me rather than telling them, “Go ahead. I can listen."

But somehow, the phone always wins. It creeps up from the backseat, and the quick stoplight glance turns into a longer check when I’m parked and my kids are itching to get out. The charging spot sits empty because I always carry my phone in my back pocket. And as much as I hate to admit it, I find myself holding full conversations with my kiddos while checking my email or scheduling next week’s whatever it is.

I’m guilty of saying the things I vowed I’d never say like “just one minute” or “I just need to check one thing” or “I’m listening but I have to do this, too.”

So a photography project titled “Removed” by artist Eric Pickersgill hit home to me. His series of photographs, which came out a few years ago, show people in various situations, looking at their electronic devices. But the artist removed the devices, a simple change that reveals the absurdity of the situation. The people are looking at nothing, which is such an apt metaphor for so many of the things I look at each day on my phone. For me, the photos that spoke the loudest were the images of people who were together, perhaps even physically touching, but were mentally miles away with the people or things on their screens.

These images drove home to me, yet again, how most of the time, we are actually looking at nothing. We are scrolling through Facebook moments of people we don’t even know anymore. I’m checking emails and convincing myself that I have to respond right now when I could just as well respond later. I’m letting that little text beep pull me away from the moment I’m actually living.

Bottom line, I’m choosing other people over my real-life loved ones.

Perhaps even more depressing, I’m rubbing off on my kids. When there is a down moment — even just a short lapse in activity or conversation — my kids inevitably reach for the nearest phone or tablet. I know they are learning that from me.

I wish instead they were learning that it’s OK to have a pause without a phone. It’s OK to sit quietly. It’s OK to do nothing at stoplights or better yet, actually talk to my kids while we drive. It’s fine to sit and think in a waiting room and actually watch my daughter during her gymnastics practice

I’m not so busy or so important that I need to fill every second by constantly checking and scheduling and scrolling. It’s all a whole lot of nothing.

And that’s definitely not what I mean when I tell my kids that nothing is more important to me than they are.

Do you struggle with putting the phone away around your children? Any tips?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her and her newborn son wins hearts with his dimples.

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