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Life Begins When the Phone Call Ends

Jim Shempert
Director, One Million Dads

My daughter is a live wire. From dawn to dusk, she is going full bore in everything she does. One of her most favorite things to do is go to a local park to swing and slide. Luckily for us, it is just a few minutes up the road from our house. Last week, we ran across another little girl that really gave me a wake-up call as a parent.

As we are putting my daughter in the swing, the little girl who seemed quite bubbly came over to my wife and started talking. I would guess her to be nine or ten. She had clean clothes on, looked to be very healthy and was nice enough. It did not take very long for me to discern something was off. She was overly effusive in talking to a couple that she did not know. She started telling us everything about herself. Most of it could be chalk up to being a kid. Having a love for children, I decided to engage her. There is a walking track next to the playground, so I assumed her mother was one of the ones using it. I asked her, “Is your mom walking?”

Her response still rings in my ears as I type this. “No, she’s in the car on the phone. She’s always on the phone. I wish she would play with me, but she won’t.” I felt like a balloon that someone popped. Here was this sweet girl, who was obviously starving for attention, to the point that she would latch on to a couple she had never met, simply because they took the time to talk with her.

Technology is fun. Technology is how I pay my bills. It is what I have always done, and honestly, if it were not for technology, I would probably be flipping burgers because I do not know how to do anything else. In this world of constant stress and distraction, it is OK to have something to escape from the noise into. I get all that, I am just as guilty as anyone. In fact, I have been guilty more than once, of being lost in one of my devices even when I was with my family.

I would say I conduct 65% of my daily business on my smartphone. I answer emails, I update web pages, I manage servers, and I even play chess occasionally on it. It is convenient. What it is not is permanent. My child is. The precious moments I have with her between now and college is what my legacy will be forever. I have many memories of my mom and dad, grandmother and grandfather as I look back to my childhood. Not one of them includes a smartphone. That app, the email, that blog post will not enrich my child’s life or be remembered at my funeral.

Call me a helicopter parent if you will, but in my mind, I have a finite number of days between now and the time she leaves for college to teach her how she should live. Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it. God has given my daughter to me for a purpose, that is to raise her in fear and admonition of the Lord, and thus she will raise her children, and so on and so forth. The gospel spreads because of the power of God behind it, but it also spreads because those who were faithful to God chose to teach the next generation about the love of God, and His sacrificial plan for us all.

My writings are generally geared towards fathers. Men always like a challenge. So, I have a challenge for dads, but really anyone who is a parent. Put the phone down. That email will still be there, your company’s IT staff is paid to make sure your email is available all the time, trust me, I know. Leave Facebook alone until the kids go to bed. Facebook is a several billion dollar company, they will be there. Leave that fiery tweet untweeted until later. Most of the time, you will find the emotion behind it is not there after some time.

Simply put, be present in your child’s life. Do not let your child be so starved for attention that she seeks it out from strangers. Having all the devices in the world is fine, but in the end, the absolute necessity for solidly grounded kids is one-on-one time with their parents. They cannot learn life skills from Facebook and Instagram. Parents like to say, “What’s wrong with kids these days?” Maybe, it’s parents who are physically present, but emotionally absent.

Put down the phone. Do not let social media raise your children. Make a tent out of a sheet and some chairs in the living room. Play a board game. Read a book. Color. Spend the moments you have actually with your children. Do not let the memory that they have of you be based around an Apple or green alien logo.

Lead or others will.


This post originally appeared on One Million Dads, a resource with the mission of waking up the fearsome wonder that is the mighty man of God and restoring him to his role as leader, teacher, counselor, and then thereby change the world we live in for the better.  

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