So, there I was, trying to distract—er…educate—my children as we were waiting at the park for friends, when a woman jogging by slowed and eventually stopped, looking over at my child.
“Excuse me,” she said. “What is your daughter doing with your phone?”
Oh, good grief, lady. Can’t you just mind your own business and keep your judgments of my parenting to yourself?!? I’m just trying to keep them out of the mud and prevent them from pulling up all the flowers for, like, five minutes. I know, I know, screen time is deadly to children under 18, technology is not a suitable babysitter, and all that. I know! I have the same arguments in my head every day! But technology is important to our society, and I don’t want to make it taboo or too enticing because it is “off limits,” and besides, isn’t learning how to do things, even on a smart phone, building pathways in the brain or something? Pretty sure I read that somewhere on the Internet, so it’s gotta be true…
Let me interrupt my own internal monologue to explain a bit about me: In the past, it has been very important to me to get everything “right,” whatever that means at the moment. Parenting has, in so many ways, rocked my world. With voice after voice after voice contributing to the conversation on parenting in our society, I went a little mad there trying to listen to the “experts” who know nothing about me or my children. When it came to allowing or encouraging or preventing my children to use technology, I wanted to do it “right.” I have wasted lots of energy trying to figure out if my kid won’t get into college if they watch television and what it equals in Parental Demerits each time an electronic device passes through my kids’ hands. So I was ready for this lady. Kinda.
I tried to be polite, while bracing myself for the “expert” advice that was undoubtedly going to follow my unacceptable answer. “She’s taking photos of her favorite flowers. Sometimes I tell her to go find a purple one, or a yellow one, or whatever, and take a picture of it.”
OK, lady, let me have it. Tell me what I’m doing wrong or roll your eyes or, even worse, give me that sympathetic look that means “poor woman, maybe her kids will be okay anyway.”
“That’s wonderful!” she said. “And just the kind of thing I was talking about with my colleagues…”
As it turned out, this beautiful stranger was actually part of an academic organization focused on STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics) and was just going to a conference of some kind where the big discussion was responsible use of available technology among school-aged children. (Oh, gentle reader, I really wish I could remember the specifics here, since I’m sure the resources yielded from any follow up would have been fantastic, but honestly, I was too busy recovering from the unexpected lack of negative judgement that my brain was too mushy to absorb the important information. Sorry, folks.)
This woman and I talked about the mixed blessings of the Smart Phone. It’s kind of uncharted territory, isn’t it? Lots of anxiety seems to surround the unknown, long-term effects of letting developing minds interact with new technology. But it’s like having a whole play room worth of toys, art projects, and puzzles in the palm of your hand. Without packing a bag, my kids can draw, practice their counting, letters, colors, and shapes, and of course take pictures.
It was the taking of photos in which my new friend was most interested. It allows for an interaction with one’s environment in a way that observation with just the eyes does not. The big world, with its infinite colors and shapes, can be overwhelming, and can tend to blur into a nondescript “white noise” of sensation. With today’s Smart Phone cameras, even a child can create a close up, framed, smaller (child-sized, if you will) view of what is there. She can create a picture out of her vision of the world. And isn’t that what art is all about?
But I’m getting a little deep here. Let’s go back to the real boon: My kid is safely occupied for the moment, and I myself am unable to be distracted by scrolling through Facebook and cannot “accidentally” buy something on Amazon. Everybody wins.
I hand over my phone for picture taking a lot. I like to think that, perhaps, by looking at the pictures my child takes I am getting a glimpse into her perspective on life, a snapshot of how she sees the world. And usually the way she sees the world involves 54 pictures of her foot.
But the choice to focus on her foot or the rug or her sister or the red flower instead of the yellow one, are all creative choices, although she likely isn’t thinking of it in that way. Choosing which bits are important is an important life skill, whether applied to art or anything else, I suppose.
Perhaps she is just enjoying pressing buttons, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. And who doesn’t enjoy pressing a good button, amirite?
Georgia O’Keeffe is quoted as saying, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.” My daughters use the phone to get close to things, sometimes reeeeeally close to things. They can even zoom into the center of a flower and see the pollen dust there. Now, I don’t want my kids to lose sight of the garden for the flowers, but I like that they are becoming noticers of things big and small, and they can record their discoveries as they go.
O’Keeffe also has said, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time—like to have a friend takes time.” Technology often speeds things up for us, makes us live life at break-neck speed. But taking pictures slows my kids down to a pace where their environment can truly come into focus.
Of course, I’d like to think that I’m being an awesome parent by allowing my children to take the time to see the flowers and rocks and sticks and rolly-pollies, but I have to admit that I am also giving myself some time too. Let the record reflect that I confess to participating in the less admirable usage of the Smart Phone and can often be seen happily strolling down the grocery store aisles, reading labels and comparing prices at my leisure, as my child watches some kind of frivolous cartoon show. I have offered my phone over as a bargaining chip to get into a car seat, out of a car seat, and to just get out of the kitchen for two minutes, please!!
That day in the park I was so relieved to have been caught doing something “right,” for once. I have since tried to think of technology, specifically my smart phone, as a tool and not as an activity unto itself. And until the zombie apocalypse and the solar flares destroy our way of life, technology isn’t going anywhere. Might as well find some good ways to use those screens!
[All pictures really were taken by my kids (except for the ones credited to Daddy) and were unedited in any way (except to put the four Roomba pics together). I know, I know, creative geniuses, right? #biasedmom]