The Best Way to Use That App Called “RESPECT”

If you go to my personal Facebook page, you’d get the idea that I’m anti-gadget. I’m not. I use gadgets. I’m on the Internet a lot. I have to consciously wrest myself away from the Internet to make sure that I’m being mentally present with my kids. What I’m against, however, is the obnoxious, anti-social use of these mobile devices.

To those who know me, that may seem hypocritical. I can be very anti-social. Growing up, it was very characteristic of me to whip out a book wherever I might have been and read. I never did it, however, when I was in a social setting. I didn’t bring out my book and start reading while people were talking to me or trying to engage me. To do that would just be so rude.

These days, however, that seems to be the norm with smartphones. I can’t count the times I’ve wanted to grab somebody’s phone and hurl it at the wall. If I’m not as entertaining as a Facebook newsfeed or a YouTube video, then slink off to a corner and commit to your choice of engagement. I prefer that you not be in my presence at all if you’re not going to be present. Honestly, am I the only one who’s insulted by this kind of behavior?

I’m teaching my kids to not use gadgets when they’re supposed to be socializing. Right now, my daughter likes listening to music or watching movies on our old iPod. She also has a broken iPod Touch that we have yet to get around to having repaired, but with both, my rule for her is to not use either when she’s with other people. “Chat! Play!” I urge her, and I mean both in the unplugged sense.

She’s okay with this rule. She likes to talk (and, boy, does she!) and she appreciates all opportunities to play with other kids since she doesn’t get them on a daily basis, homeschooling as we do (Hold all comments about socialization – we’re happy with the organic socialization she gets. As a matter of fact, the issue I’m about to share rarely happens when we gather with other homeschoolers.).

The rub, however, is in the fact that most of the other kids she’s with are using their gadgets. The ones who aren’t using their gadgets are gathered around those who are using their gadgets. I hate seeing that. Whatever happened to playing tag, jacks, et cetera? Believe me, it may seem like “mirones” watching somebody else play chess, but it feels different.

Having banned my kid from gadget use when she’s with other people, she ends up being one of the kids to look over the gadget-using kid’s shoulder. When I come across this scene , my blood pressure rises (because, well, does anybody else think it’s pathetic?), which I try to hide, so I just calmly remind her that she has drawing materials in her bag, as well as a few toys she could play-share with other kids, not to mention whatever book she’s currently reading.

Call me a buttinski, but that little nudge gets me the result I want, and my kid is happy to remember that, yeah, she has those other options. As much as I prefer to just let kids be, there are moments when I feel compelled to interfere.

Take for example, this one time at church. I found Midge in the office, seated next to her friend, watching the other girl play on her tablet. The other kid was completely ignoring her, as absorbed as she was with the game she was playing.

It made me sad, not only because my daughter appeared a bit pitiful, looking on like that, but also because this should have been a chance for them to swap jokes, giggle together, talk each other’s ears off… I couldn’t help myself. I meddled.

“Hey, M!” I called my daughter over, while taking out a piece of paper and a pen from my bag. “Let’s see if you can guess this word. It’s something found inside this room.” And thus I started a game of Hangman with her.

After two words in and a lot of excited exclamations from M, the other girl placed her tablet down and wandered over to us. She soon started guessing along, and later, she asked for a turn to make us guess. I left them some minutes later happily playing that old chestnut of a game. I mentally dusted off my hands and thought, “My work here is done.”

I know there are those of you who see nothing wrong with kids playing with their gadgets in social settings and think it’s perfectly natural for kids to huddle around somebody playing on a gadget, but I disagree with valid reasons based on my personal convictions and values, and it is within my role as a parent to bring up my children accordingly. Believe me, there have been a few occasions where she asked that irritating question that begins with “How come my friends’ parents let them…?” but she has now memorized my reply: “Different families, different values, different priorities.”

Please don’t misunderstand. My kids get a lot of screen time – more than I’m happy with actually. What I’m opposed to is people ignoring each other in a social situation to focus on their gadget.

Feel free to express your agreement or disagreement with me.

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