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By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Distracted parenting

Uploaded: Dec 30, 2013
Ten years ago when my daughter was born, my husband and I lived on a hill in rural Virginia. We had a painfully slow dial-up internet connection. We didn't have cable TV and there were no smart phones.

I recall reading Anne LaMott's Operating Instructions while breastfeeding, but that is the only time I remember being consciously distracted from my daughter. Sure, I multi-tasked. I did housework with my daughter in the bouncy chair, I spent time with other mothers, and I talked on the phone. But a lot has changed in ten years.

Ten years later when I had the twins, I sent my team at work photos of the babies while I was still in the hospital. When I nurse the babies in the morning, I can check my email, social networks, and headlines with some strategic bends of my thumb. And we've all seen that sad sight, which I fear I will soon emulate, of the parent pushing his child in the swing at the park with one arm while he hunches over his phone.

I love the conveniences a mini-computer in my pocket has provided. And I know that Google's founders (my employers) have innovated in the smart-phone space to help save consumers time so that they can spend more time experiencing life and as Larry Page famously says, "loving."

But it is disconcerting how easy it is to be sucked up into technology and our "virtual worlds" while we block out smaller interactions with the little people in our lives. I'm not surprised that questions of how we as parents and people prioritize, stay present in our lives, and continue to cultivate face-to-face interactions and relationships are popping up left and right.

The most effective trick I have for this is leaving my phone at home or in my glove box and returning to an "unreachable" state for several hours each day and as much as possible on vacations. This means that I concede to returning to my correspondence as a distracted parent for an hour, when I'm away from my kids (when they are in bed or in the care of another), or on a Sunday evening before I return to work.

As we set resolutions for the new year, perhaps we should all set a goal for focusing on the here and now when we are with our kids (and everyone else in our lives). Our children are only young once and they will benefit from our time and undivided attention so much more than our phones.

What are your sentiments about parenting in today's world? What are your tips for avoiding being a distracted parent? What are the pitfalls you've encountered?

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Susan, a resident of Castro City,
on Dec 30, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I don't think this is limited to parents, although that is very important. I wish some of my friends would turn off/down their phones while we are at a social event or Happy Hour. I had to do an intervention so that a 50-something friend would pay attention at a Birthday party that She had organized!

I am on several emergency-call lists but can check once in a while and that is sufficient.

And then there is texting! Watch parents drop off their kids at school...they barely stop for the kids to get out as they are madly texting and drinking coffee. First-hand info from several crossing guard friends. (They should get hazard pay for putting themselves in front of huge SUV's intent on killing them!) I also saw a bicyclist texting as he wobbled along the side of a VERY busy street. He nearly broadsided a car!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by A Parent of 3, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 30, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I agree with your encouraging people to "be here now" in essence. It's so easy to get caught up in the ease with which we can communicate, receive messages etc. rather than making the effort to engage with real people who are right in front of us. How ironic that some of the folks who work for the tech companies that make all this escapist behaviour possible are now seeing what they have wrought and trying to put the brakes on it, at least with themselves and their readers. Will they take the next step and stop enabling these tech terranchulas, accepting the financial rewards they bestow, and apply their vast talents to helping mankind in ethical ways? "Do no harm" is a wonderful slogan but unfortunately the pressures of Wall St are hard to withstand.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Dec 30, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I think the reality is hard for us to swallow. I think we are all guilty of this at some time or other. It is hard to allow a phone to ping without checking, hard to get wiki to answer a quick question and hard to realize that we as parents are using technology the way our parents used a paper and pencil or an encyclopedia. From having a tablet on the kitchen counter showing the recipe for dinner to setting the timer for the cake on the phone rather than the stove, we are using technology for the most mundane tasks.

Meal times in particular should be one time when we all have some face to face contact, put our phones in the middle of the table and the first one to touch a phone does the dishes.

What I find the hardest is when the phone is given to a crying toddler instead of a book or toy, or being picked up and cuddled.

I was recently in a doctor's waiting room. Sitting opposite me was a mother with a preschooler and an infant. The mother had her phone in her hand the whole time, texting or something. The preschooler was given a snack without a word from either just to amuse her while waiting, no please, no thank you, then a juice box. The infant was asleep, but when she woke, the mother just pushed a pacifier in the mouth to keep her quiet. In all of this, the mother stared at the phone and both children had no communication of any kind from their mother. So sad, and probably played out so much of the time in this family's everyday life. When there is no communication now, I wonder what it will be like when the mother wants to know what is going on in her children's lives.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Dec 31, 2013 at 7:12 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Readers - I too worry about the safety of my family and friends in light of drivers who text behind the wheel. I don't think the answer is to slow progress and put a halt on technology. I believe the onus is on us as individuals to be thoughtful about and responsible for our behavior so that we can build the kind of relationships we desire. Let's use the New Year to recommit to staying more present with our kids and other important people in our lives.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by TxtNot, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 31, 2013 at 7:33 am

Couldn't agree more. I see the moms/dads/nannys pushing kids around in stollers, while they are busy txting/talking away on their phones. I've had several drivers give me the evil eye, when it is them I had to honk at so they would not hit me, as they were busy looking at their "smart" phones.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by A Parent of 3, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 31, 2013 at 11:32 am

You know Jessica T, that's more or less the same argument gun rights supporters make: "...I believe the onus is on us as individuals to be thoughtful about and responsible for our behavior." I know you are coming from a good place in advocating putting down these devices of distraction and building the relationships we want. But why spend our time and energy helping those companies further develop the capabilities of these products and come up with ever more clever ways to convince people that they can't live without them. It's ironic: many of our parent's generation spent their lives slaving away for a corporation that produced products that ultimately added very little to mankind's development, while helping to use up natural (and human) resources, pollute the environment, sometimes causing harm to users. Growing up, many babyboomers criticized their parents for being cogs in the system (another brick in the wall.) Now many of us are doing the same thing in many ways, only it's for companies that have cool names, sleekly designed products, and provide mentally stimulating work environments (sometimes.) At least some of them provide free food.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 9:39 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

A Parent of 3 - I understand your logic, but there's a big difference between handguns and computers. One is designed solely to kill, for example. I'm curious, what alternatives do you propose for making a truly ethical living in today's world?

And Happy New Year to all my readers!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Leslie, a resident of another community,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Can I tell you how sad I feel when I see parents on their phone with their bored children in tow? I'm not one of those that feel that parents should entertain their troops....but as a mother of 3 adults I can promise that you will wish you had taken advantage of those moments to share things about yourself or to find out how your kid thinks. Allow them to know that you enjoy being with them. Don't wait until they get to teenage-hood to make those connections. Our little dudes and dudettes can be amazingly perceptive and very funny. Enjoy them.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm

I work in the schools where, one year, my teacher asked me to take a reading group aside for small group work. I do not remember the topic of the reading or the point I wanted to make, but I made some reference to people looking at their phones instead of paying attention to the world around them. Suddenly there was an explosion of out-of-turn, no-raised-hand, simultaneous talk.

"My mom is on her phone all the time!" "We can't interrupt my mom when she is on the phone." "You should see my mom when she sits down to watch TV. She has her computer on her lap AND her telephone on the seat beside her. She only says she is watching TV with us."

Guys, little eyes are taking it all in, and it will serve you right when they get their phones and your presence becomes history.




 +  Like this comment
Posted by Kae, a resident of another community,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Another community across the US-yes, I found your blog when watching TV, using my iPad to look up information about the Stanford punter who went to the same high school my grown kids did. I digress...but this is an example of today's technology at work-for better or worse.
The observations you make are valid but a part of today's society. My granddaughter at 20 months knows how to use a mini iPad. At first I was proud of her, but now I worry...what will her adult life be like.
As a parent of two and a grandmother, I can look back and say yes, things have changed but some things haven't. The writer in response to your blog said "you" will miss those days that you didn't stop to talk to your children-for real and in person! This is too true but it is hard to tell the younger generation to watch out-just as my parents tried to tell me things.
Moderation of all the "tools" is best. This is the current dilemma for both parents and schools. I work for a public school system that debates long and hard about the use of technology in the classroom and also at home. This is what is needed in all arenas that are using technology-what is the impact on peers and our children.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 6:51 pm

I think we all agree that technology has made life change for us all and we would be lost if we had to give it up.

I don't think this thread is about giving up the advantages, but it is about making sure that technology has its role in our lives rather than us being so wrapped up in it that we are forgetting it is just a tool and that life is more important.

I am so saddened when I hear about parents no longer reading a book to a child, sitting coloring together or playing with legos on the floor. I am saddened when I hear that a young child knows how to turn on an ipad and find an app just as easily as turning on a tv and finding a cartoon channel. I am saddened that we are forgetting how to make eye contact to the barista or grocery bagger to say thank you because we can't take our eyes off our phones long enough to realize that they are there.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Parent of 3, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Michael Krasny on Forum (KQED) today, Jan 1, interviewed psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman who talked about our current era of constant distraction, and how that makes the ability to focus daunting. To quote the intro on their web page: ...the ability to focus is the key factor in achieving success, more than IQ or social background. He focuses on this distracted life we are living, pointing out amongst other things, that emphathy for other people suffers when we interact with so many folks via technology.
Here\\\'s the link: Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by A Parent of 3, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 10:24 am

Jessica T: A lot has to do with how you define "a living." If it's defined as making it possible to live in a town like Palo Alto, that does limit the possibilities for finding a way to earn a "truly ethical" living. That aside, it's not impossible. Working in the medical field is one way. Working with seniors. Working in education, are some others. And even within those fields there are some ways of earning a living which may be more ethical than others. Medical: being a doctor, nurse, therapist, drug-counselor would probably be more on the ethical side of the scale than working for a drug company that is trying to expand its market by trying to convince adults that they need to continue taking ADHD meds forever, beyond their childhood (where it may or may not have helped them in the first place.) Education: Teachers tend to fall on the more ethical side of the scale. People who start and run private colleges and "institutes" who prey on students in order to help them take out back-breaking federal loans and provide minimal career-prep, leaving the students in heavy debt without the promised job skills and job openings, not so ethical. I'll forego breaking down hi-tech companies on the ethical scale. Of course, it comes down to whatever ethical scale we are personally operating with. I'm going with the A Parent of 3 ethical scale myself.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by a male engineer, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm

I agree with @A Parent of 3. We need to think, talk, and write more about this issue of ethical work in the modern age: what we do 8+ hours a day matters a lot to and in the world, for good or for ill.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Thanks for the discussion everyone. I chose the company I work for because I believe it's mission "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" and Google's work practices are making the world a better place. I realize not everyone may agree with that, but it's huge for me. It's interesting that A Parent of 3 mentions education and healthcare as two options for ethical breadwinning. Both have been traditional fields for working women. I think there are others besides these two. I also think acting ethically in the moment and day-to-day trumps what "field" you are in. People who do this really change the world.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm

USA is a registered user.

So, what is your family doing while you are reading the MV Voice on-line?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Bunyip, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 7:02 am

The author sounds like a real piece of work. Can you over-inflate yourself anymore. No one cares that you work at google. If you were a janitor at Walgreens would you be blurting it out for everyone to know? And Congratulations on demasculting your husband by saying your the real bread-winner despite his job as a professor at SJ, but he does all the housework! Strike two. You epitomize what is wrong with our area. A transplanted tech-knob needing to blog about being "super-ideas'.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Bunyip, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 7:06 am

[Post removed.]


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Ladies, this is why we are fighting an uphill battle. As long as people think that women are threatening our husbands' manhood by making more money than them or by asking them to contribute to housework, we'll continue to be subjugated. Bunyip - thanks for reminding us that there's a lot of work to be done yet.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Bunyip, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Wow, way to appeal to the feminist voice in the crowd, no doubt your intended audience. Let's put this in real terms, your just an animal, like me, like those at the zoo, some like yourself who work at google are soooooo much better then others, but inherently if society broke down tomorrow, your no different. What is different is that women, have reproductive organs and throughout evolution have developed responsibility for child rearing, again some better than others, while men were responsible to provisions, food, shelter etc. it's akin to the hunter and gatherer past. What's changed is inadequacies of the economic climate and the destabilization of the typical family unit. There is a dependence upon dual incomes now to survive, especially in the bay area. Yet traditional roles still exist and rightly so, as men cannot bear children. This isn't an argument that men can't do housework, it's the argument that e role of breadwinner that was typically a male role is gone/changing were there is equal contribution, yet for you to claim you are the 'breadwinner' suggests you want to maintain this hierarchy, reducing your husband to the other role. Why don't you acknowdge that breadwinner isn't a dollar figure, but a role, that appears to be shared jointly in your relationship, you so marvelously brilliant to be employed by the wonderful Google narcissist machine, and your husband as a professor at SJ, a much more ethical existence. Save the feminist mumbo jumbo, those days are gone. Your just an animal who though evolution is developing a role beyond previously expected, likewise your husband. If you adopt roles and names such as breadwinner, you are ineffect demasculting your husband through traditional role expectations. Sorry you think that is an attack on the 'ladies' in your audience.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 3, 2014 at 10:39 pm

[Post removed due to using multiple aliases from a single ip address.]


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Ignore the trolls, a resident of Woodside,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 10:52 am

Ignore the trolls, folks. They are everywhere, but mean nothing.

And stop the parental judging. When you see a parent on a phone or tablet, remember that it's possible they pulled an all-nighter last night for a sick kid, or just insomnia under the stress of modern life. Perhaps that is their first mental break all day, and god knows we need them. Maybe they are checking to see if that job offer came in after months of unemployment. Or maybe they do spend too much time distracted.

You just don't know, so don't guess and don't judge. Focus on your family and your priorities, and help out others if you can.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 5, 2014 at 11:03 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

The society that is most open to recognizing the skills and leadership energy of "non traditional role" groups will reap the economic and many other benefits of equality.

Bravo Jessica.

Thanks for raising the issue of distraction. It is an interesting and useful discussion as I sit here typing on my IPad watching the Charger's game.


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