"Our new addiction to our phones is resulting in an attention deficit disorder for our kids."
There is only so much time an adult human being can spend watching their kids' play in parks. I'm not sure how long that is because no one has been stupid enough to give scientists funding to find out – yet – but I do know it is somewhere far south of five years.
Fortunately, technology has made park life more palatable, you can sit there with your smartphone, working or playing Angry Birds or simply rearranging the icons on the screen in a vain attempt to feel like you have any control over your life now that you have children.
But there is a nefarious side-effect, our new addiction to our phones is resulting in an attention deficit disorder for our kids; they are constantly having to share us with a screen.
And don’t think they don’t know it. When I was thinking about this story I asked my five-year-old what he thinks when I use my phone in the park. His response: "I don't like it. I'd rather that you played with me."
Take it from the kids' point of view. They don't see Daddy returning an email that will make him money so he can shower them in Duplo, they see him jabbing and swiping at the screen like he's conducting a tiny flea orchestra. And even if they did know you were sending an important message they don't care, cos the only message you are sending to them is "I'm not really here" (though if you were a flea conductor they would probably take you to show and tell).
The result is that kids act out. We have a lot of trouble trying to make phone calls around our kids. As soon as I pick up the phone, they are tugging at my legs or suddenly needing help going to the toilet and I think it is a reaction to just how much time we spend on the infernal things.
The minute the smartphone is slipped out is a sign you are mentally going away, so they hang on your pants leg as if you were really off out the door. They act up to get the attention you are lavishing on Fruit Ninja.
So I have tried to impose a set of "screen time" rules, much as we do to our kids.
The first one is that I don't use the phone for Facebook or games when I am in the park anymore. As annoying as park time is, I can see in my five-year-old that it is coming to an end. It won't be long before he no longer asks me to be the pirate captain that steers the playground equipment to foreign shores or begs me to send him to distant planets with a single push of the swing. I don’t want to get too Cats in the Cradle on you but it won't be long before the kids get a smartphone and you will be the one asking them to put it down.
I have also noticed I am most likely to yell at my kids when I am doing more than one thing at a time, so one great side effect of the new screen time rules is that our time together is better, more stress free. If I’m simply sailing around on playground equipment I am actually happier (though not happier than if I was, say, having a beer with a friend in the tantalisingly close pub across the road).
Important calls can still be taken of course - adult life must go on - but if they are more important and less frequent I find they get more respect from the kids. Or maybe they are just happier now I am not using my phone to channel surf for something more interesting than them.