Settling into the back row for our third musical concert in as many days, my little daughter, bathed and dressed in pajamas whined, “I’m bored.” Without hesitation, I handed her my iPhone and she happily sliced through bananas and oranges in a game of Fruit Ninja. A few seats down the row, a man read the New York times on his phone, while just in front of us a toddler finger painted on an iPad. Sighting my son’s conductor approaching us, I smiled and waved hello, but she didn’t have a smile for us.

“I hope you’re enjoying your devices,” she said, sweeping her arm in a circle including the back three rows, “because I’m going to make you turn them off in just a minute. There is no hope, no hope for the future if we can’t teach our children to listen. Orchestras will die, live theater will perish and intellectual thought will disappear if we spend our lives in front of these screens. And frankly, you parents are setting a terrible example.”

Like a choir boy caught swearing in front of a priest, I wanted to defend myself, “I’m a conscientious parent. My kids study and practice. We scarcely even watch TV.” Instead, I simply palmed my phone from my daughter and pressed the off button.

I watched as the conductor canvased the room, delivering a similar message to like offenders. Minutes later she stood in front of the hall, “Welcome to our Winter Concert. Turn off your iPad, your smart phone, your games; no more texting, no more Facebook, no more Words with Friends. Every parent here has invested a small fortune in your child’s musical education and every teenager in my orchestra has worked incredibly hard on the music we will be playing tonight. Your teenagers deserve your full attention, and your younger children need your good example. Listen. Just listen.”

As the music swelled, I felt a rush of shame. The orchestra was incredible, each student playing with the enthusiasm and passion fostered by an excellent conductor. Maybe I would have turned off my phone without her rebuke, but I also might have borrowed it from my daughter to check my email or Instagram.

What have I become?

I remember when I first heard of people texting while driving. How irresponsible! And yet a month ago I found myself answering a text “see you at six” while navigating my neighborhood streets. What kind of example am I setting for my 16 year old new driver?

When my older boys began violin lessons, I took copious notes and supervised practicing. But with my ten year old son? Hmm, I’m usually texting someone about swim team carpool or reading the latest post in Google Reader.

How many times have I neglected a child’s question or missed my daughter’s new gymnastic feat while checking my email?

And while Facebook provides a useful service for connecting with old friends or arranging gatherings, I think there’s good reason high school reunions only take place every five to ten years. We don’t need to connect daily with distant acquaintances, especially at the expense of our most important relationships.

In lines, at restaurants, at stoplights we see everyone checking their phone. No longer do we allow ourselves to be bored. But it is in these empty spaces, where our minds can sort and process and remember.

Article after article bemoans internet use and cell phone addiction in young kids, but the blame is often misplaced on children. Parents buy the devices, pay service fees, provide new games and either enforce or ignore reasonable limits.

My college age son observes that while many freshman are excited about meeting new people, a surprising number are uncomfortable with ‘real life’ social events and retreat to Facebook or online gaming groups in the safety of their dorm room.

Don’t misunderstand me. My darling iPhone guides me with GPS, answers my questions with Google search and entertains me with audio books; my computer houses my music library, my writing and photography, but they are simply useful tools, not the substance of life. Checking my email fifty times a day is a bit like watching the washing machine spin.

A generation from now, I wonder, will we look back at this decade and laugh, “Remember when we were all obsessed with devices?” Or will we scarcely look up, completely absorbed by virtual lives?

I’m determined to do better. Since the November reprimand, I’ve been less available to everyone else but more attentive to my family. I don’t want my children to remember me with my head hunched over a screen; I want them to remember my eyes looking into theirs, laughing out loud, answering questions and listening with my whole heart.

December 17, 2012


  1. Rachel

    December 20, 2012

    That sound you just heard was me being poked in the heart by this post. 🙂

    This is SO relevant to us. We have screens everywhere. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with feeling miserable and lacklustre, and have been really down on myself (not usual for me). I realised reading this that our constant, mindless screen flicking is exacerbating the feeling of disconnection. It makes me numb to my surroundings and to God.

    Thank you for the prompt!

  2. Kimberly

    December 20, 2012

    Such a needed post! These devices are such useful tools but so easily become slavemasters if I’m not aware. I think especially as parents we need to watch over our children as well as be mindful of the example we’re setting. I love everything you write!

  3. M2theh

    December 20, 2012

    I was watching tv while reading this article. Hanging head in shame.

  4. bth

    December 20, 2012

    I have a feeling your comments will fill up with guilty annecdotes like this one: last night I was finishing a novel on the Kindle and my daughter, who had been trying to talk to me said “Mom, can you pause?”

    Great post. Great to keep in mind. We didn’t grow up with devices like our kids are and sometimes that gives us a “you kids and your devices” holier-than-thou attitude, but we need to teach ourselves how to just listen again and live life without our screens (she types on her laptop in a dirty house with unfinished projects galore).

  5. Sandra

    December 20, 2012

    good reminder. thank you. Now I need a good reminder to hold myself to it.

  6. magpie

    December 21, 2012

    I needed to read this. Thank you. I don’t want to admit I’m guilty, but I am. Darn it. How did I get here?

  7. catania

    December 21, 2012

    yep! I needed that. 🙂

  8. Sage

    December 21, 2012

    I love that conductor’s boldness! It takes guts to push people to live up to their potential. Thanks for your courage and example, Michelle!

  9. Anne Marie

    December 21, 2012

    This is absolutely brilliant and inspired. Thank you for your thoughts on this.

  10. Michelle

    December 22, 2012

    Love this. Your comment that “they are simply useful tools, not the substance of life. Checking my email fifty times a day is a bit like watching the washing machine spin.” I guess it’s not on, but at a regional conference a few years ago, Sister Beck said something so similar (except the tool she used to compare with technology was the dishwasher).

    I do think that the irony is that we as humans huger for connection and yet we often lose it while seeking it through a screen. In that way, it’s worse than watching our laundry spin because we think we’re getting something that often is more a counterfeit of what we really need.

    I’ve been trying to be more aware of what I’m feeling when I go to my computer. It’s often that I’m tired or bored or overwhelmed or sad. I’m also trying to be more conscious of constructive ways to cope with such feelings so I don’t misuse the blessing of technology (because even as we don’t need to check messages 50 times, I do think the connections and sharing have a place). Thanks for the reminder to keep it in its proper place.

    For me, at the core of this is realizing tht the only way I can really do that is to keep God at the forefront so He can help me in those times when I’m stressed or feeling sad or whatever.

  11. jks

    December 22, 2012

    I have always limited screens (for my older kids in toddler years it was all about TV, not there are so many). I iusually am on the side of screens are evil.
    I relish forcing my kids to go on long drives without DVDs. Kids should be bored and look out the window and entertain themselves with their own thoughts.
    I have to soften my stance a little and go with the times. I am no longer quite so adament. My children need computers to do their homework and to communicate with church leaders.
    At a certain poinnt I chose for my children to learn to text their peeers. My older two are wonderful and listen patiently as I help them learn to text. Texting is different (joking, tone of voice, crossing lines are hazardous). I loved having my daughter come to me and read me a text to make sure she wasn’t being rude. I do not want to disadvantage my kids’ social development.
    Within reason, of course.
    My kids are repsectful. My kids know real people take precedence.
    I am a little too addicted to blogs, but I can sometimes see good in it.
    Life is so much faster for my kids. It is amazing, isn’t it? We won’t get back some of what we will lose. My hope is that overall it is still better. It is unavoidable. We can try to minimize the damage, but that is the only battle I fight now.

  12. Michelle

    December 23, 2012

    Saw this article and thought of your article, Michelle.

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