Regret. Regret. Not just a great song by Everything Everything (seriously, check them out, they are awesome). But a very real and often repeated emotion in the mind of a parent. My regret is what I (and probably most other notable psychologists) like to call Screen Addiction.
I’m sure we all have it to some degree. You’re slightly bored, a commercial has interrupted the TV show you’re watching, you’re on a 15 minute train ride with nothing to do, you’re in the doctor’s surgery, you’ve got a sneaky few minutes between clients at work, etc. And there it is. Without you even realising it, it’s made its way to your hand. You’re just absentmindedly handling it and suddenly you’re on the internet. Thanks technology. I’m of course talking about our phones. Our smart, smart, smart phones. Our phones that connect us to the whole wide world and the entirety of human history. Our phones that Gen Y’s, Gen Z’s and Millenials claims over and over again about how the older generations shouldn’t shame us for our constant (over)use because of how we choose to use them. We could be doing things like reading a novel, or having an in depth conversation with someone on the other side of the world, or completing research on a topic we love, or reading the news. But YOU KNOW we’re just using them to take endless duck-face selfies, having arguments with complete strangers, and mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
My regret comes from what I deem as overuse of my phone in the presence of my son. When you’re at home for the entire day, it’s very difficult to engage your full attention on your small human at every minute. In between the mile stones, and cute faces, and hilarious noises, and amazing discoveries, and adorable cuddles there are large parts of the day that are solely BORING. The same thing that you did yesterday you do today. “Oh look, you’ve re-discovered that the bottle top screws on and off. Yes of course Mummy will help you screw it on and off, FOR THE NEXT HOUR!” you say through a smile and gritted teeth. So when your child is distracted by some mundane thing that they find fascinating, you can’t help but allow your attention to drift over to your phone. “What’s everyone else in the world got to say about things today?” you think. “Oh, I can’t wait to look at other people’s pictures of food” (because you’re secretly envying them for the ability to go out to random upmarket restaurants, while you get to stay at home sampling the foods your child has refused to eat). “I really need to check if anyone commented on that really witty post I made on Facebook 10 minutes ago. DAMNIT IT, WHY HAS NO ONE EVEN LIKED IT YET!?”
It’s hard to focus your attention on any one thing for more than 20 minutes at a time, and unfortunately our daily lifestyles and access to certain technology only exacerbates our inability to concentrate. Why I bet you haven’t even gotten this far without taking a moment to be distracted by something out the window, or thought about getting a coffee, or suddenly remembered that you meant to watch that great show last night and now you’re trying to figure out how you can download it. Our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and TV editing doesn’t help at all. Think about the latest show you’re watching and next time pay attention to the editing. How long do they spend in each shot before cutting to a different angle, or the next scene? I bet it’s never more than a few minute at a time, or in some case even seconds. It can be pretty jarring when you realise what you’re watching (and for those that I’ve now pointed this out to, you’ll either never unsee it again, or forget it by the end of this article).
So it’s any wonder that I can’t seem to give my son my undivided attention for every moment that we are with each other. And it leaves me feeling extremely guilty. On the one hand I know I should be teaching him that the world doesn’t revolve around him, that he doesn’t need an adult’s attention at every moment of the day. That he can be an independent individual. But on the other I feel like I’m missing out. That I should be enthralled with every little discovery he makes. The facial expressions as they change over time with age and excitement. Because I can’t help but think of the day, the day that is coming when he will no longer want me around. When he doesn’t want to hold my hand. When he doesn’t want “Mummy cuddles” (his words). When I’m embarrassing. When I’m annoying. When I’m not letting him do what he wants to do and I’m the worst person in the world. When he utters the words “I hate you” for the first time. When my heart breaks. Then I will look back on all those moments when I couldn’t put my stupid phone down and think “Why did I waste this time?”
Now I know I shouldn’t be all doom and gloom about this. It’s important to still have moments to yourself. You are still a person too, you are not JUST a parent. You still have needs and desires. The ability to separate yourself from the role as Mother and the role as Me is paramount to good mental health. So where do we stand now? I guess I still have the desire to reduce my screen time, and will endeavour to do so. I feel like I need to reconnect with the world at large a little better. And maybe I’ll discover just how fascinating that bottle top lid coming on and off is to my son.