I wrote this post a few years ago but it seemed a good time to publish it as I’m helping my son and his girlfriend move into their first house this weekend which means I don’t have the time I usually have to write, and I’m thinking a lot about what a joyful life it’s been watching my kids grow up and what a big space it’s gonna leave when he isn’t around.
I’m in the car on my way to a poetry gig with my friend Martin. He’s driving and I’m regretting agreeing to buy my son dinner from Nando’s and having to place the order online using my phone.
Switching back and forth between his texts and the Deliveroo app I screenshot the completed order having just received a photo from my son with the menu item I was missing circled in blue.
“How do you even add blue circles to photos?”
I wait for a message from him that I’ve got it right and maybe a “thank you”.
The message doesn’t come as quickly as I’d like.
While I’m beginning to feel disgruntled, I get a cheery “Perfect. Thank You! xx” smiley emoji.
Tech has created an invisible wall between me and my children. One that I don’t suppose they notice. I feel jealous of their screens because they spend more time with my kids than I do.
Among all the warnings of the dangers of too much adolescent screen time, there don’t seem to be any about how it has a negative impact on the wellbeing of parents.
Once, during a conversation with my daughter about the impact of too much screen time she said “Blaming everything on phones is just lazy parenting.”
As if being a parent isn’t hard enough the stakes are apparently high when it comes to knowing the difference between parenting properly and abdicating responsibility. I don’t want to be a lazy parent so now I never blame phones, even when phones are at fault.
I don’t want to be critical of something which makes my children happier than I can but it’s hard not to feel inadequate.
When my children used to play Minecraft together I encouraged the teamwork, the gentle and cohesive hum of their relationship. I told myself it was just Lego for the modern age and that felt justifiable. Even when we couldn’t prise them away for their tea it didn’t seem so bad. Then my son got into GTA and instead of mining for natural resources with his little sister, he was popping prostitutes on street corners and dragging respectable-looking women from their cars by their hair.
I tried to ignore it.
Worse still was that for a while I began to feel left out so I downloaded and installed Minecraft on my own laptop and would sit playing it instead of joining a teleconference on marketing budgets for the fourth quarter. I was worse than what I feared for my kids, isolating myself and not doing the work I was supposed to be doing. I imagined my boss firing me and, while ushering me off the premises, telling me “You’re always on that bloody phone”.
In the kitchen, I am making cookies. A place my children always helped me when they were younger. I have a photo of the two of them covered in flour one time before technology got a hold.
In another, taken one rainy afternoon, we’d made fresh pasta and meatballs. They look happy. They still do.
I call to my daughter, “Do you want to help me cut the cookies?”
Putting my head around the door she has the TV on, is listening to music through her headphones and is glued to her phone chatting with friends.
I dig out the photo of the flour children and stare at it longingly.
Last week I was relegated to disciplining my daughter by phone. She wasn’t home when she’d said she would be. She read my messages but didn’t answer. I felt impotent.
Complaining to my wife I said, “She’s 18 next month so I don’t suppose there is much we can do”.
“Well she still lives under our roof”.
I’ve lost confidence in using 1970s discipline on children of the future.
Then there’s the ignominy of having to go to them for help when something isn’t working.
Last week my wife was experiencing some trouble with the email on her phone.
Me: “I could try deleting it and reinstalling it?”
Her: “Whatever, but if I can’t find a way to sort it out this phone is going through the fucking window”
My son fixed it in an instant and harmony was restored while I ached for the days when he needed a puncture fixed on his bike.
Back at the car park after the gig, there is a massive line waiting to pay while people find they don’t have the right app.
“Why isn’t there some faster way of doing this?” I say to Martin looking at my phone with disdain.
“You mean, like cash?”
When we are eventually back on the road I get a message from my daughter. It’s a picture of her snuggled up with the dogs and a message.
“Hope you had a lovely evening. I’m off to bed. See you tomorrow xx”