Tuesday, July 5, 2011

101 things to do outside with children #3: Tune in

No matter where you go these days, it seems, people are always chattering on their phones or texting or facebooking, or whatever. In the grocery store, in traffic, even (gasp!) in public restrooms. I don't know what it's like in other countries, as I haven't done much international travel lately, but in America, people are constantly "connected" to their phones, computers, work, and whatever else.

We are pulled in so many directions. It's easy to be distracted. So many of us are busy multi-tasking, juggling jobs, families, hobbies, and everything else. It's difficult to give anything your full attention.

I myself am guilty of this. Until recently, my "old school" cell phone was capable only of making and receiving calls. It was fine for my needs. But when the phone finally died, and I went in to replace it, I was "upgraded" to a "smart phone" that could take pictures, surf the web, receive email, and who knows what else.

"Cool," I thought, doubting I'd ever use any of the bells and whistles. But sure enough, now that I've owned the phone for several months I am as guilty as anyone of being distracted by the blinking red light on my phone that indicates I've got email waiting to be read. It's so easy to quickly push a button and peek. I haven't counted the number of times in a day that I check, but I'd bet it's more than I'd want to admit! But what message does this send my children? What messages are we as a society sending our children when we are constantly distracted and frequently interrupting our interactions with them in favor of our phones? Can't we tune in to our children instead?

When I'm with my children, I want to be fully present to them. When we're outside, I try to be available to follow their lead, to tune in to their messages, rather than the ones on my BlackBerry. I want to let them lead me to the things they're interested in. This is difficult and yet so worthwhile. I want my children to know that their interests are important, valuable and real. I want them to know that I care about the things they care about. I want them to show me what they love, what they are curious about, where they want to be. This is the information that really matters. These messages are more important than email, facebook, or any of the other technological distractions we have at our disposal.

I'm thinking we need a "National Day of Rest" where all cell phones, ipads, and handheld gadgets automatically shut down so we can reconnect with what really matters: our children.

If we can't free ourselves for a whole day, how about 15 minutes? Try following your children out the door, and then following their cues completely. Just do it for 15 minutes. Let them decide where to go, what flowers to check out, or which rocks to collect. Let the children choose the path or decide on a picnic site. If they want to catch fireflies, catch fireflies. If they want to putter around on the sidewalk, poking at anthills with a stick, so be it. Follow their lead. Turn off your phone, put away your ipad. Be fully present--even if it's just for 15 minutes.