No loving parent ever decides that Facebook and other social media are more important than his or her children. Loving parents just don’t consciously decide such things.
But some people let tiny decisions add up — one after another — until they’re putting the online world before the children they love. Not in big ways. The children are still being fed and clothed. They’re still getting where they need to go.
But some parents end up depriving them of the most important thing they have to give — their loving attention.
Brandie Johnson of Lakeside, Calif., realized recently that her boys needed more of her attention — and she realized that was going to require that she put her phone down more often and pay more attention to her real world than to her virtual world.
Last November, Johnson decided to do a small experiment with her sons. I’ll let her tell her own story, which she shared on Facebook that day and which finally found its way to me on Tuesday.
“Today I did an experiment,” Johnson wrote. “I watched my boys play. As I sat quietly in the corner of the room I tallied how many times they looked at me for various reasons: to see if I saw their cool tricks, to seek approval or disapproval for what they were doing, and to watch my reactions.
“I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been on some sort of technology what message would I have been sending?
“Twenty-eight times my angels would have wondered if the World Wide Web was more important than them.
“Twenty-eight times my boys would have not received the attention most adults are searching for.
“Twenty-eight times my loves would have questioned if they were alone emotionally.
“Twenty-eight times my kids would have been reassured that who you are online is what really matters.
“In a world where we are accepted as who people perceive us to be and not who we really are, in a world where validation comes from how many followers or likes we have, in a world where quality time with loved ones is being replaced by isolation and text messages from the other room, I beg you to be different.
“Please put down your technology and spend some time with your family and loved ones.
“The next generation of children is counting on us to teach them how to be adults. Don’t be too busy on social media; you never know who is watching and what message you are sending.”
I don’t have children, but Johnson’s thoughts touched me. I’m not a Luddite. I don’t want to suggest everybody should get offline and abandon social media entirely. (Social media is a bigger subject for another day. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.)
But we send messages to those we love by how we choose to spend our time. If we spend time with them — and genuinely pay attention to them in loving ways — we’re telling them that they matter. If we spend too much time on virtual lives elsewhere, we’re telling them that they are burdens who keep us from doing the things which really matter to us.
So which is more important to you? Your children and other loved ones? Or social media?
Your answer might tell you a lot about your real priorities. If your children and the other people you love in your real life deserve your attention, give it to them. If you’re living your life vicariously through the online world, you probably need to make changes to your real life anyway.
Life is short — and that can become more apparent as each year passes. Make sure you’re spending your time with the people who matter in the long term.
Give your time, your attention and your love to the people who really matter.