My daughter is only six months old, but she’s already taught me one of life’s most important lessons.
To live more presently.
We are so desensitized to distraction today we don’t even realize when it’s happening. Our senses are constantly stimulated by screens and dings and bells and whistles, that experiencing even a moment of silence makes us feel uncomfortable and jittery.
It wasn’t always like this. It’s not supposed to be like this.
We accept anxiety today as if it’s a normal state of mind. It’s not. It’s our brains way of telling us, “ENOUGH! I need a break!” We’ve filled every single moment of our day with mindless tasks in the unending race toward completing our to-do lists, convincing ourselves that we are being “productive.” Yet, at the end of the day we feel unfulfilled, unsatisfied, unsatiated.
When will we learn?
You cannot fill your soul by completing tasks. You cannot fill your mind by consuming screen time. You cannot fill your heart by endlessly scrolling.
Human beings have the need to be social. It’s one of our most important innate, internal drives. It’s essential for continuing our species. It’s the reason why we are all here.
We crave connection. Real, genuine connection.
We’ve replaced it with superficial, counterfeit connection. It looks the same, but it isn’t, and our brain knows it. You cannot genuinely connect with a screen in the palm of your hand.
There’s no wonder why early studies show that an increase in screen time is associated with an increase in depressive symptoms (Boers E, Afzali MH, Newton N, Conrod P., 2019).
We scroll. We feel lonely. We scroll more. We feel lonelier. More isolated.
How can this be?
It’s not real connection. Our brains are craving it. Our souls are begging for it.
Our children today are facing many dangerous threats. They are being forced to grow up faster and deal with more mature problems sooner than we ever had to. I guess this can be true of every generation, but it didn’t happen so suddenly or so violently. We had time to adjust.
I will argue that screens are the most dangerous threat to our children. It’s stealing the most precious resource we all have, one that is irreplaceable. Non-renewable.
Back to my daughter.
There have been moments in these six months that I’ve been holding her in one arm, as she stares at me smiling and laughing, only to have a phone in my other hand and me hypnotized by the screen. Checking an email. Sending a text. Taking a photo. Reading an article. Scrolling social media.
And I’m AWARE of this. I know the research. I study this stuff for a living. And it’s still difficult for me to resist.
She’s watching me. Studying me. Soaking up her world like a brand new sponge. I catch a glimpse of her and she is now looking at the screen, too. Locked in. As if she is paralyzed. It’s terrifying to witness. The power of this machine in our hands.
What am I teaching her?
I eventually come to, aware that what I’m doing is setting a poor example, taking away from our moment together, and I put my phone away. But those little moments add up. They have a cumulative effect and we don’t even realize how quickly moments become minutes, minutes become hours, and hours become days.
The average person spends nearly 200 minutes per day on their phones. That’s nearly 24 hours per week! Add it up, and the average person spends 51 days per year on their phones.
Are. You. Kidding. Me.
And there are people easily spending upwards of four to five hours per day. Think about what we can be doing with all that time? Reading more. Learning more. A new hobby. A deeper conversation with a friend or loved one.
And that’s not the worst part (as if it can get any worse). The worst part is how often we check our phones. On average, we check our phones every 3.5 minutes. Every time we check, chemicals in our brain are released equal to that of the most addictive substances on Earth. I’m talking heroin. Morphine. The minute we put our phones away the stress and anxiety begins to build. Our brains begin to crave more. We need more. So we check again. And again. And again. We can’t miss. We need another hit.
My daughter has taught me to live more presently. I don’t want her to grow up, but I can’t stop that. What I can do is make sure I don’t miss a moment while she’s growing up.
She’s obsessed with me. And her mother. We are her entire world. You can just tell when she looks at us. I never again want to look up from my phone and see her looking at me. Wondering, “what’s daddy looking at? or thinking “it must be important, because he’s not paying attention to me.” What is so important? Better yet, what is more important than simply enjoy being in the moment with her.
Phones aren’t going anywhere. We will continue to use them. I will continue to use mine. For better or worse, they are a very important part of our world. And they aren’t all bad.
However, the next time I’m with my daughter and reflexively reach for my phone like a possessed zombie, I’ll be more aware. I’ll snap out of my trance. I’ll put “Do Not Disturb” on, or better yet, shut it off. I know, crazy, right?
Or is it? Don’t you think we can all benefit from more genuine connection? More genuine time with our loved ones. Deeper conversations - more present conversations. Fewer distractions.
Let your mind rest. Stop filling it with activity. Start filling it with love and connection. Even boredom. Every second doesn’t have to be used just because it exists. Take this pledge with me and live more presently. Let the innocence and purity of an infant teach us life’s most important lesson.
To be here now and stop wasting our most precious gift. Time.