I take a lot of public transportation. Subways, trains, buses– every single day. And as many of my friend – bloggers have already posted, riding public transportation is always interesting, and you never know what you might run into when you step onto that train. This week: It’s been “misbehaving” children.
Taking your kid to public places has always been a challenge. Kids are unpredictable. They might cry, they might make a mess, they might annoy someone. I get it, it’s tough. Me, I’ve always liked kids. Whenever I see one on a train who’s just trying to explore, I usually offer a smile or a funny face, which usually serves to keep them amused for a minute or so. Unfortunately, this week has been full of little terrors…or were they? The first one was screaming and crying because his mom wouldn’t let him play on her phone. Pretty obnoxious. The second was singing and playing while looking out the window of the train, making a lot of noise. This one was a little annoying, but I was willing to let it pass since she was just trying to keep herself occupied. No big deal.
You know what annoyed me the most though? The parents. Both of these parents were too busy playing games on their phones, or texting, or whatever they were doing, while their kids are making a fuss. Now I’m not a parent (thankfully yet), and I don’t know what it’s like to be with these kids all day, but I do know one thing: kids absorb everything. They absorb everything you say, everything you do, how you make them feel, how you interact with people. And after they absorb everything you say for the first few years of their lives, they then start doing those things, and saying those things, and reflecting everything you’ve given them right back in your face, and to everyone else in their lives.
So from that first little boy complaining that his mom wouldn’t let him play on her phone, I heard “Leave me alone, stop messing with me”. Some people would think “what a fresh-mouthed little boy”. You know what I think? The only things your 3-4 year old son knows how to say are things that you’ve said to him. He’s just saying it back. Then he starts pulling one of the mom’s friend’s hair, and she starts pushing him away, telling him she’s going to slap something out of him. All I can think is “you’re raising this little boy to grow up as a human being who believes that violence and bad language are the only ways to solve problems”. When he’s all grown up and you’re wondering why he’s pushing you away, I’ll know it was that moment, and many like it, that made him act that way.
The mom on the train today kept telling her daughter to be quiet, to leave her alone while she texted or played on her phone. She’ll wonder one day why her daughter won’t talk to her, why all she says is “leave me alone” when her mom finally wants to talk. We ask ourselves how to rid the world of violence and how we can communicate more. It starts right there. It starts in those little moments when you can decide whether to say “leave me alone” or “other people on the train are trying to work, please keep your voice a little bit lower”. And it’s not hard. It’s really not a difficult decision to make. All you need to do is pay attention. Unfortunately, today’s parents are too absorbed by their mobile devices that they can’t take the time to “deal” with their kids. They’re too distracted, they’re too busy, they’re too into themselves to take care of this tiny human being that they promised to raise.
Technology allows us to do incredible things. And technology can be used as excellent educational tools or play-things for your kids. Great. But it also disconnects us from each other. I get it. I, too, get sucked into my phone fairly frequently as of late. But these parents were too into their phones to pay any real attention to their kids. We’ve all heard the stories of the parents who neglect their children because they were too busy playing Farmville. And once you buy your child a phone or an iPad, good luck connecting to them when they’re older. When they disengage from you, you better make sure you can get them back.
What happened to the parents who wrestled with their kids? What happened to the ones who bring some flash cards or games with them on the train to be engaged in their child’s life? These are the tiny moments the define who we are as human beings. They are the moments that determine who your child will grow up to be. They might be boring, insignificant moments to you –sitting on the train, waiting on a line, sitting at a restaurant– but as mentioned, children don’t have boring, insignificant moments — they’re constantly learning, constantly absorbing. Every time a parent pushes their kid away because they’re in the way of their cell phone game, the kid feels it. And then the kid will learn it, and eventually do the exact same thing right back to them.
My favorite experience on the train was a mom reading her son a book on the ride. I couldn’t hear the exact words, but it didn’t matter what the story was; she was actively engaged in her child’s life. She was reading, teaching her son how to read, keeping him occupied so he wouldn’t disturb other passengers, but also giving him the attention that he needs to grow and thrive. Not only was she prepared to keep her son distracted so that he would behave, but she gave herself an opportunity to really connect with her son and to be an important part of his life. Those are the memories that this kid will always have. He’ll remember reading that book, and he’ll remember his mom right there reading it to him.
We know that talking on the phone while driving is dangerous. We know that texting while driving is dangerous. We know that people texting while walking across the street are putting themselves in danger as well. So why aren’t we concerned about texting while parenting? It could be the thing we regret most of all.