I am a gamer, a geek, and a lover of all things tech and gadgetry. Before my little one came along, there was nothing more relaxing than a weekend spent chilling with Dean at home, each playing our video games of choice, perhaps binging on some series on Netflix. I’m often guilty of the second screen thing, too, where I’ll be watching TV or playing a game while simultaneously checking messages or social media on my phone or tablet. When it was just the two of us, I never really worried about it – sure, we’d lose ourselves in our virtual worlds, but Dean and I would also enjoy an evening sitting outside sharing a bottle of wine. We could dive deep into our screen time, but then also have fun cooking together, or going out to see friends, or travel off on a fun adventure.
Since Harley came along, I’m much more aware of screen time – not just hers, but also mine and Dean’s. She is 11 months old and figured out a while ago that grabbing for my phone would always get my attention. Granted, it’s a valuable device that I don’t want thrown on the floor, but I wonder if she also realizes how often I’m holding onto it and by grabbing it she is sure to be noticed. But it’s not about absolutes with me. I still love gaming, I still love series, and one day soon I hope for a VR headset of my own. It’s not that screen time is somehow inherently evil, but it certainly needs to be monitored.
I’ve made a rule in our home – no screens during dinner. Otherwise, Dean and I had a tendency to watch something fun on Netflix while eating together, instead of chatting and connecting. Of course, it’s not an ironclad rule – if we are chatting about something and want to fact check something, we like having our phones on hand to Google. Just recently we were discussing Popes and naming traditions in Catholicism, which of course meant we had to check the exact date of Vatican II and how Popes choose their names. Or when we were talking about weird regional foods and decided to look up the difference between a Gatsby and a Po Boy or what made a Chicago style hotdog so special. It’s one of the things I really enjoy about our conversations; we can talk about anything and everything and we both have a bizarre range of random knowledge.
But when the screens are on and he’s watching YouTube while I play a game, or when I binge on Netflix while he’s consumed in his games, there is no conversation. The most we do is smile at each other, check that the other is okay, and move on with our separate experiences. And truly, that was mostly okay before Harley came along.
Now, part of what I’m teaching my little one is how to connect with other people. How to sit at the dinner table (or coffee table as the case may be) and talk about the day, about politics and current events, about friends and popular gossip, about what books we’re reading or what videos are intriguing. Harley needs to learn how to exist without technology, how to engage with other people. I’m not unilaterally against social media or technology. I really do think that messaging and the miracle of instant communication through social media on a handheld device is truly amazing for friendships and connections. How else would I be able to easily make plans with a friend for dinner, and moments later touch base with another friend on the opposite side of the world, all while checking in with work and double checking a recipe?
Harley is going to grow up in a connected world. She is going to grow up around screens, around the internet, around all forms of technology. Thanks to what Dean and I do, she will hopefully be comfortable with all of it and easily use whatever new tools and tech come her way. But it’s just as important for her to learn how to connect without the virtual world, how to be stimulated by meaningful conversation and closeness with people she cares about instead of always needing the technological frenzy.
But more than the long term, in this very moment, Harley needs to learn that she is a priority for me and Dean. That we love her. That she matters to us. And while it isn’t always easy to pry myself away from a game, or for us to turn off the tablets and TVs, it’s so worth it to hear her laugh, worth it to see her make eye contact and really know that we’re with her. Of course, it will be a whole lot easier when quality time with her can also include playing the latest games together.