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In Defense of “Texting While Parenting”

2 Oct

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the texting habits of parents. The tenor of the conversations is mostly negative, and a lot of words have been spent excoriating parents for using their phones when they should be watching their kids.

I think we’re all guilty of it, to some extent. And sure, sometimes it’s dangerous and irresponsible, and sometimes it’s neglectful, and sometimes it’s rude.

But sometimes it’s also necessary. And it’s not always wrong.

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I’ve had an iPhone since before I’ve had a son, and I love it almost as much. I use it a lot – too much, probably (too much, definitely, if you ask MomandBuried) – and I have no problem conceding that when it’s on my person it’s difficult for me not to frequently engage with it.

I also spend a lot of time with my son, especially since I lost my job at the start of the summer. We are together almost all the time, and when we leave the house I am as sure to bring my phone as Lt. Munch is to bring his lovey. And yes, I have been guilty of looking at my phone when I am in the company of my kid, and I understand where the negativity is coming from.

But in my defense…

I’m on record as the ungrateful dad that is occasionally frustrated by the stay-at-home parenting experience, and as the jerk of a father who told the world his son is boring. I stand by both posts. I’m sorry, but the level of discourse in the toddler world can leave something to be desired, and as a stay-at-home dad, it can get rather old when all your conversations revolve around time-outs and “Yo Gabba Gabba” and naptime.

This blog is nothing if not honest, and while I understand the concern behind the “texting while parenting” issue, aka “the latest thing it’s okay to judge Other Parents for,” I think, as with most things, generalization is the enemy.

Using a smartphone and watching your kid are not mutually exclusive activities.

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A lot is being made of parents using their phones at the playground, but the playground is one of the few places you can let your kid roam free without too much concern. The ones I bring my kid to have toddler-specific sections, segregated from the rest of the park to protect the stupid-but-can’t-help-it younger kids from being trampled by the stupid-and-should-know-better older ones, and the ground is padded with rubber material to prevent falls. My son is pretty safe when we’re there, and yes, I’m watching him as he putzes around.

Obviously, should my kid venture onto one of the raised platforms or want to go on the swings, I’m all over it and make sure we go together so I can have his back. But if he sits down in the sandbox or is drawing with his chalk, you’re goddamn right I’m gonna check my phone. Maybe a job-related email came through. Maybe my wife texted me about dinner. Or maybe my trade offer was accepted in fantasy. It doesn’t really matter.

Any email/text/phone call/check-in/Angry Birds level would seem trivial should your kid get hurt while you were reacting to it, and kids are going to find a way to get hurt whether you’re watching them like a hawk or not; it’s half the point of being a kid and much of the challenge of being a parent. The fact is, in those rare moments when my toddler is happy playing independently or with other kids and doesn’t need me standing behind him to break his fall, I’m happy to let him. And I’m going to take that opportunity to try and squeeze in a little bit of adult time, if possible.

Besides, when am I supposed to check my email? If I even so much as glance at the computer at home, or my kid spots my phone in my hand, it’s a nonstop marathon of grabby hands and whiny demands. He needs to see Superman clips, he wants to play with the E-I-E-I-O app, he needs to hear “Call Me Maybe” for the 800th time, he wants to swat at the keyboard because…well, really just because he wants to swat at the keyboard.

If you whip out some flashy piece of technology in front of a two year old, he’s gonna want to play with it. The playground or the park or other safe, enclosed areas where he can safely occupy himself are the only places that offer the chance for unencumbered multi-tasking. It’s not the phones that are the problem.

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Parenting is hard. It’s tiring. Sometimes you need a break. Sure, there are good times to take a break (during his nap) and bad times to take a break (ANY OTHER TIME!), but distracted parents weren’t invented by Apple. The parent who texts while their kid walks into traffic would surely find another way to neglect his kid should NBC’s Revolution come to pass.

I promise you that plenty of kids who live in Amish communities or who grew up in the 1700s got kicked by mules or stepped on nails both while their parents were looking in the other direction and while they weren’t. I doubt responded by writing articles about the dangers of butter churning.

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14 Responses to “In Defense of “Texting While Parenting””

  1. Kristin October 2, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    So it’s not just my toddler that is mesmerized by “Call Me Maybe” I’m so tired of hearing it but it can stop a tantrum in an instant.

  2. BloggerFather October 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    You’re right, but I guess it’s all in moderation. Yes, it’s about being able to check your phone while being there to catch your kid if he’s falling off the slide, and you’re right that we shouldn’t care about what other parents think, and you’re right that a parent who spends all day interacting with his kid on the kid’s level may not function well as a parent or as an adult.

    But it’s also about making sure your seemingly very independent kid doesn’t feel like you couldn’t wait to drop him off so you could play with your toy (even if it’s true). I think babies and toddlers and little kids and older kids can sense that, and sometimes, it’s worth it to let them feel like you WANT to play with them and chat with them on their level.

    • Dad and Buried October 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      That is a GREAT point, and not really something I’ve seen discussed by either side (tho I may be the only one on this side!).

      First of all, I am a HUGE advocate for moderation in EVERYTHING. More to your point, yes, ensuring that your kid knows you want to spend time with him/her and aren’t just using the playground (or whatever) as an excuse to do what you want is important. The last thing I’d ever want to do is make me kid feel unwanted, even in those moments when I a bit am burnt out.

      The distinction I’m trying to make is that context matters; there are definitely bad times for it, but there are perfectly acceptable moments for texting or checking an email. And while your kid could always get hurt during one of those good moments, that doesn’t necessarily mean the parent is negligent. Kids get hurt all the time. They INVENT ways to get hurt.

      There’s just a more delicate way to go about conveying parenting “best practices” without veering into such universal, black-and-white judgment.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. icescreammama October 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    I appreciate your defense of texting. wait – crap. got to run, my kid is walking toward the street. 😉

  4. Dad, aka Stephen (@AReallyCoolDad) October 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    If you’re commenting on cute cat videos while your boy is tugging at your arm, you probably deserve the evil glares from the perfect parent judges. But hyper-connectivity makes it possible for us to spend even more time with our children, or simply be present when they are testing their independence and exploring the playground. Those of us who fall into the work-at-home category carefully balance our work with parent obligations & free time, and shouldn’t need to justify dividing our attention to anyone else. (Now, if you’re the parent who let’s their toddler swim without uninterrupted supervision, you will get my wrath.)

  5. A Gracious Life October 2, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    ah yeah, the perennial problem of texting. Once, I was getting a phone. The sales man tried to sell me an iphone…the main issue to me was shifting from traditional keypad to qwerty…I told him, “I can’t text using that while driving.” And he said, “Ma’am you’re not supposed to text while driving..” I looked at him and said, “Oh you’re right…” and said again”…oh wait, no, you’re wrong…I have to text. ” And I left the store thinking.

    So again, everything in moderation!

  6. Janet Dubac October 3, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    I have to agree with you on this post, parents have to be even more multi-task oriented than the average person already is. The “grabby hands” resonates with me as well I’ve dealt with it often.

  7. therookiedad October 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    I could not have said it better myself!

    • Aude December 28, 2012 at 5:00 am #

      LARPkitten – WASH YOUR FABRIC BEFORE YOU USE IT!I made a black headboard very siaimlr to this, minus the tufts (just not my style) and absolutely loved it. When I rearranged my room several months later, though, I pulled the headboard away from the wall And the fabric had dyed the rental-white walls! I couldn’t scrub it off: the dye had leached into the paint and the room had to be repainted.

  8. John October 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    I will be sharing this post with my wife. My wife will then roll her eyes and ask me to put my phone away.

  9. Gina Valley (@GinaValley) October 4, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    Parenting is hard, often repetitive work. It’s unending and the praise is minimal, if not non-existent. A parent without contact with the world of adults and adult stimulation cannot do his or her best at parenting or maintaining sanity. But, as you pointed out, it’s all in the timing. There’s nothing wrong with checking your phone while your son plays happily with other members of the pint-sized set in the sand box. Just remember to join him once in a while. The sand in the shoes is worth it and this time, although sometimes feeling painfully slow right now, will be gone in an instant. You’ll have fond memories of your non-electrified time with your tyke.
    Just be sure to bring a ziplock for your phone. Sand does a number on it!

  10. Gizela December 26, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    trying to the child to discuss what makes them upset. Knowing these lesnsos into unwanted negative and aggression you should. Parents let children because they lack the ability of parent can inflict venomous poison

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