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Defending My iPhone: Connected to the World, and to My Kids

It’s a technology backlash: the New York Times has Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price. Here at Babble, we offer Does My Blackberry Make Me a Bad Parent? Our smartphones were our saviors, allowing us to watch a Little League Game even while we waited for an important but unpredictable call and to vacation while keeping an eye on an important project–but now, those are exactly the things we’re not supposed to do. Without defending the parent texting away while his child plays in the street, can we take a step back and remember the way things used to be?

I didn’t have kids in the pre-mobile phone days, but I did have parents–and what I remember is a dad tethered to a desk in an office, for all but two weeks of every beautiful summer, and a mom apologizing to another mom for missing our entire family afternoon together, because one of us had gone to the wrong park, and there was no way to figure out what had happened. And then, working myself, I remember sitting at my desk in an office tower, looking out at a sunset, and knowing that all of my friends were sharing outdoor drinks on a roof deck somewhere, while I waited for a phone call from a senior partner that never came. My husband and I both canceled vacations because we couldn’t stay in touch with the office. We traveled huge distances to find fax machines  on trips. I once sat in a coffee shop for hours, waiting for their phone to ring for some call I had to take. Yes, once we did manage to get away–that would be the time we went to Thailand–we were fully away, with no email and no calls–but does anyone besides me remember how rare and impossible those moments were? Things without email and mobiles and smartphones were different. They weren’t necessarily better.

Yes, I have trouble not reflexively checking my email every ten minutes when I’m out with my kids. Yes, it’s even more tempting to see if anyone more, um, adult has tried to get in touch with me while I sit and listen to my 4-year-old recount the plot of Pinkalicious over coffee at the bookstore. And since reading studies about how poorly we really multitask, I’ve tried to give it up. I close email when I write. I resist the lure of the phone while waiting for my 8-year-old to decide on a chess move. I’ve stopped trying to juggle a few minutes of stray work time into the hours between dinner and the kids’ bed, and the results are more pleasant–generally what I was achieving in those moments was adding to my own frustration.

But can we acknowledge, again, that a properly wielded mobile phone  really can make things better? I can field a call from a little sister’s friend’s mom while watching a brother’s lacrosse game that results in everyone getting to hang out later for pizza. I can email a snapshot of somebody triumphing over the monkey bars at last to Grandma. I can call my own pediatrician from an ER in China. I can wait for an email from an editor at the pool instead of at my desk. Does my iPhone make me a bad parent? Nope. Sometimes I’m a bad parent anyway, but that’s a whole other story.

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