They walked towards us like zombies. Heads down, arms out, cell phones in hand. Mouths agape, we stepped off the sidewalk to let them pass. Not one of the family of four looked up; not one of them noticed our family of six. Surely, they were joking, poking some family fun at society’s cultural norm. But they weren’t laughing, and neither were we. In fact, they continued on in the same manner, entranced and disengaged, somehow staying on their path. A half-hour later, they lurched past us again, the dad one step ahead, two young children side-by-side, and the mom trailing behind, heads down, arms out, eyes glued. Every. Single. One.
Interestingly, we were touring a lively Anacortes, WA marina and museum featuring the W.P. Preston, an historic, permanently dry-berthed snagboat steamship, with plenty to see inside and out. Before cell phones, such a sight would surely have been enough. A comical mermaid sign, informational displays, art walk installations with massive driftwood sculptures, and rows of boats lined the docks along the boardwalk.
“Look!” Chris pointed. It didn’t matter. They wouldn’t have noticed. Another family of four, all staring at their phones.
Were we in the Twilight Zone?
I imagined theatergoers from the 1960s watching our modern society obsessively interacting with the rectangle object in our hand, waiting for the twisted ending. I pictured alien ‘bots from Mystery Science Theater 3000 cracking riffs about the state of our people. I wondered why exactly phones took the place of face-to-face conversation; why exactly they became entertainment for our children; why exactly our children needed to be spoon-fed entertainment, and why so constantly?
Instead of daydreaming out the window, I see kids in cars holding a screen, even for short trips in town. Instead of talking about their day over dinner, I see kids and parents hunched over a screen at a restaurant table. Instead of listening to grandparents tell stories to their grandchildren, I see grandparents AND grandchildren scrolling on their phones. Instead of shopping and helping make food choices, I see kids sitting in the cart holding a screen and eating a cookie. Instead of making up silly games and building neighborhood forts, I see kids play video games together all night, and then watch videos of other kids’ videos of themselves playing video games all day. Hold on. Read that last part again and really chew on it for a second. It’s a thing, and it’s big.
I also see the difference in my own children. My husband has, too. We’ve seen a significant behavior change in them after a dose of screen time. We’ve noticed an increase in irritability, boredom, arguing, and appetite and a decrease in energy, motivation, creativity, and conversation. For these (and other) reasons, we have chosen to not give our children handheld screen devices, and we strictly limit their computer, video game, and TV time. It’s not always easy. Saying “YES” is often easier than saying “NO.”
We say “NO” a lot.
We send them outside a lot, tell them to “find something to do,” remind them of their bikes, longboards, art supplies, board games, books, and LEGOs. We encourage movement, dance, athletics, and creativity. We also realize that in today’s world, many creative opportunities exist on the computer and with technology. We use them ourselves, and they will, too.
Once they grow up.
But first, childhood.
Now, before they scroll, and it’s gone.
What are your thoughts about kids with cell phones? How has childhood changed? Should we be concerned? Let us know your thoughts!
~Angela and Chris
[After our experience in Anacortes, we thought a lot about what cell phones are doing to families, and we decided to make a short video. The video linked above was filmed in Monroe, WA after our recent trip to watch 4-H students show their horses at the Evergreen Fairgrounds. We also ventured to the simple and stunning Al Borlin Park for the riverfront footage. Only one of the cell phones shown was actually working, and only one cell phone was dropped in the filming of this episode.]