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Too Much FaceTime and Not Enough Face-to-Face Time?

Man on a zoom call with four of his friends.

In its rightful place, technology is a great resource! But it's so easy to get lost in our phones that we often lose sight of what is right in front of us: our family, our friends, and even our kids. In today's blog, Willa Williams talks about balancing technology and authentic human interactions to create fulfilling relationships.

I love jogging.  I have been a consistent jogger for several decades now, and I have grown to really love it (it took a while!).  It gives me a chance to get outside, get exercise, think, clear my mind, pray, and worship.  It has become especially important during the quarantine.

The other day I went for my daily jog and decided to go to a local sports park.  I jogged to the park, and as I got close to the park play area, I saw a heart-warming scene.  A little girl who looked to be about four years old was playing tag with her daddy.  He would chase her around the playground equipment, and just miss her as she would giggle and laugh and skip away.  They were having a wonderful time, running, laughing, and connecting with each other through play. 

There also was a woman there, sitting on the ground in the play area.  She was engrossed with her phone, reading and swiping, and was not paying attention to the little girl and her daddy. At one point, the little girl was running away from Daddy, and she ran to the woman and jumped on her back, collapsing into a breathless, giggling heap on the woman’s shoulders.  The woman did not look up from her phone but yelled at the little girl to stop it and to get off her back.  It was then that I realized that the distracted woman was the little girl’s mom. The little girl stopped laughing, got off her mom’s back, and within a few seconds resumed her chase with her dad.

It made me sad to watch this exchange, but I continued on my run.  I ran the loop around the park and ended up heading back to the play area.  As I got closer, this time I witnessed a heartbreaking scene.  The little girl was still playing tag with her dad, and her mom was still absorbed with her phone.  The little girl started to run towards her mom, then slowed to a trot, to a walk, to a crawl, and then stopped about five feet in front of her mom.  She just stood there for about 10 seconds looking at her mom, and then put her head down, turned around, and walked away head down with a look of resignation on her face.  The mom never even noticed that she was there.  

This scene evoked such feelings of sorrow in me.  I felt so sorry for the mom. She was missing out on such a great opportunity to play and connect with her daughter.  The little girl wanted to be with her, and she missed the chance to experience that. Those opportunities don’t come along forever.  The little girl is little only for a brief time and will outgrow wanting to play with her mom at the park soon enough.  

I also felt so sorry for the little girl.  I could see the pained look of rejection on her face. She tentatively approached Mom and did not feel secure enough to just run up and engage with her, so she just gave up and walked away. She gave up on her desire to connect with Mom. Kids tend to internalize things, so I wondered what she was thinking...   Is Mom mad at me?  What did I do wrong?  Does Mom not like me? Why doesn’t Mom want to be with me?

Now, it very well may be that this was an isolated incident.  We all have had days where we just want to check out and be undisturbed, especially given the stress and upheaval of quarantine. It is important to have compassion and empathy in these times. Maybe the mom was just having a hard day and needed to have some alone time.  Either way, however, I do believe that there are some guiding principles that we can glean from this situation.  

First, let’s make sure that we have more of a relationship with the people in front of us than we do with the phone in our hands.  It is so easy to get lost on our phones.  Hours can go by before we realize how much time we have actually wasted.  At times it can be helpful and relaxing to spend some limited time mindlessly reading our social media accounts, playing games, or surfing the web.  But overall, having an actual conversation with a live person in front of us will be much more beneficial.  We will feel heard, seen, supported, connected, and not alone.  And wanted physical touch, like a hug, is advantageous as well.  It helps us to feel cared for, important, loved, and connected with others. All of those things are a great buffer from feeling isolated, and won’t happen when we are absorbed by our phone or other tech devices.

Second, let’s keep technology in its proper place. Without a doubt, technology is a great thing! Our phones, computers, and social media accounts are here to stay. But technology can only do so much when it comes to authentic human connection. Let’s utilize it in ways that enhance our emotional connection with each other, rather than replace that important connection with a flimsy counterfeit. 

Third, let’s make sure to take good emotional care of our children. Our kids need us, our physical presence, and our focused attention.  We can demonstrate to them how much we love them, how special and important they are to us, by putting our phones down and turning off our computers. Doing so gives us time to read to them, play a game with them, and just have fun together.  We will have more time to talk with them about how they really are doing and about how they are facing their age-appropriate life challenges. We will have the space to encourage them and to emotionally connect with them.  All of these things are a priceless investment in our children that will reap significantly better rewards than being on our phones ever could.

As in all things in life, balance is the key!  We want and need to use technology to function in today’s world, and even for enjoyment. But let’s be the master of our phone and technology use, rather than letting it master us. We, and our kids, will be happier for it. I know that the little girl in the park would have been happier if her mom would have put her phone down and played with her!