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  • Matt Beardmore

    Matt Beardmore used to cover sports for ESPN The Magazine and the Chicago Tribune, and contribute to The New York Times Travel section and In Transit blog, but he’d much rather write about a far more important topicbeing a dad.

    To the parents addicted to their phones

    Here's how to keep an eye on your phone while interacting with your kids.


    My wife and I have been taking our 8-month-old son to swimming class for the past couple months, and each time we’ve gone, I’ve noticed something about the parents lounging in the deck chairs near the floor-to-roof glass wall that separates them from the pool. Most of them have their eyes locked on their phones instead of watching their kids in the water. It’s crossword puzzles, Gmail, CNN.com, games—you name it. I see it when we’re waiting to enter the pool deck and when I’m in the swimming lane with my son.

    I get it. Kids’ practices and activities can be a much-needed respite for sleep-deprived parents who just need to veg out for 30 minutes or an hour and mindlessly surf the internet, send an email or play a game (my alarm goes off at 4am every Monday through Friday, so I feel your pain).

    But, can we be honest? The smartphone has also taken some, sometimes much, of our attention away from our children when they’re sitting right in front of us. I never thought I would become one of “those parents,” but I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty at times. Sometimes I jump at my phone with each notification, refresh ESPN.com every couple minutes to see if the football score has changed, or habitually check my email instead of keeping my full attention on my son. There are only so many wooden block towers I can construct and nursery rhymes I can repeat before I need to turn my attention elsewhere, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

    So for me, and any other parent who sometimes can’t resist the urge to have our phones in our hands or near us when we’re playing with our kids or when they’re participating in an activity, I thought I’d do us all a public service by listing a few ways to use the basic functionality on our phones (I’m not a big app guy, so feel free to stop reading if you were expecting one of those top parenting app blogs) that could put the attention back on our kids and away from the work email that can wait until Monday and the crossword puzzle or game that will still be there when the kids go to sleep: 

    Take photos/video of your child. They’ll never be in this moment again, so why not snap a few shots and create an online album or email the photos/videos to loved ones? It’s incredible how fast kids grow—savor and save this moment.

    Write a quick note to your child. I’m so glad that before my son was born that I wrote him a letter every few days throughout the length of the pregnancy. Sometimes it was just a quick note to let him know I was thinking about him. Other times it was several paragraphs about how I felt about an upcoming doctor’s visit or the fears I had about how life would change when he finally came home from the hospital. Soon after he was born I compiled these notes in a self-published book and presented it to my wife.

    Have your child “call” a relative. Even if your child is just babbling and cooing and can’t yet form full words, I’m sure there are plenty of relatives, especially the out-of-towners, who would love to hear a few sounds from your little one.

    Throw a ringtone rave. Kids love to move and dance, so why not get some good use out of all those ringtones you’ll probably never use?

    Teach how to count. Practice counting 10, 9, 8, … with the hourglass feature. Use your phone’s stopwatch to practice the other way … 1, 2, 3 … .

    What might be the best tip of all (although I know it’s infeasible for some of us) is to keep the phone out of reach, or just turn it off, when your children are around. I know I don’t have memories of my parents playing on their phones or some other piece of technology and not giving me their full attention, so I don’t want my son to have those, either.

    Related articles:
    How unplugging made me a happier parent
    Why I didn't move after a nearby shooting
    Limit screen time for a happier, healthier kid

    Matt Beardmore

    Matt Beardmore used to cover sports for ESPN The Magazine and the Chicago Tribune, and contribute to The New York Times Travel section and In Transit blog, but he’d much rather write about a far more important topicbeing a dad.

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