Cell Phones Aren't The Reason Parents Ignore Their Kids

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

It’s time we drop some truth on each other, folks. We need to face some facts. As parents, as teachers, and a community of reasonable humans, let’s face it: we’ve been ignoring our kids since humans were painting on cave walls. This is how we survived as a species. Because if we helicoptered every second, some sabertooth tiger would have snuck up from behind and gobbled us up. Fact.

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Okay, maybe it would have been a cave bear or something, because I’m fuzzy on Ice Age predator biology, but whatever. The fact remains: if we were busy staring at our kids, something would have eaten us. At least the fire wouldn’t have gotten tended and the clothes wouldn’t have gotten sewn and food wouldn’t have been hunted or gathered.

Ignoring our kids is basically an evolutionary advantage.

Also fact: cell phones are just the latest distraction.

Don’t get all smug on me, America. Don’t shoot me that bitchy look across the park when I’m Facebooking my ass off while Junior climbs up the slide (when no one else is on it). You know full well that yesterday, when you were sitting zombie-like on the couch over that desperate cup of coffee, and your kid had been up since 4 a.m., and he was like, “Mom mom mom mom lookit this lookit this lookit this” you said, “Yeah sure, honey, that was great,” and took another sip of that life-giving elixir without knowing if he had just drawn a Cezanne or colored the cat with green marker. Because ignoring our kids is a survival strategy. We’d go batshit bonkers if we didn’t.

Take our parents, for instance. They didn’t have cell phones. But our moms sure as shit had regular phones, which they used to call their besties for hours on end. You know this. You remember this. You remember the spiral cord tangling over itself as she stretched it as far as it would go while she chugged a Tab at the same time.

One-side chat with Judy or Lisa or Alice was the background noise of your summers, and if you wanted to show her a drawing or ask for change for the ice cream truck or something, you had to get her attention, and that meant basically dancing up and down and yelling, “MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM” until she covered the mouthpiece and hissed, “I’m on the phone,” in that I-might-kill-you voice, at which point you could hurriedly rush out your request in one breath and hope she’d stop paying attention to Judy/Lisa/Alice long enough to grant it. Which she always would, because she wanted to shut you up.

And remember afternoon soaps, which they affectionately called “stories?” They lasted hours through the middle of the day, ostensibly prime parenting time, because they were built on the basic premise that you were watching them while ignoring your sleeping, snacking, or rioting spawn. All My Children, Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns: they were exclusively “Mom Time,” and you did not bother Mom during Mom Time, and if you did, you got chased out with a “My soaps are on! What do you want?!” You could burn the shed down, as long as your mom was safely ensconced in the family room while Marlena Evans was getting all demon-possessed on Days.

And at the playground? Moms didn’t have cell phones. Instead, they kicked us out of the house and told us to go play on the playground by ourselves. Then they sat down on the couch, presumably with another one of those ubiquitous Tabs and a smutty-ass romance novel we weren’t allowed to read that had all the sex parts dog-earred. Or maybe your mom was actually industrious and used her childless time to Shake-and-Bake some chicken while she threw in the laundry.

Either way, she was totally ignoring your ass, and if you chose to go up the slide, well, you got a foot in the face and were the wiser for it. Mostly you probably built a fort and played a lot of football. This was the stuff childhood was made of.

So that mom on a cell phone? She’s actually helicoptering while ignoring her kids the best evolution tells her how. See, society tells her she can’t just send her 7-year-old out by himself to do whatever the fuck 7-year-olds used to do with their spare time. Instead, she’s hovering, but from a socially acceptable distance, while chatting up Judy/Lisa/Alice via Facebook messenger, chugging her ubiquitous latte, watching stupid cat videos, and reading some smut: all on the same device.

Our moms would have committed war crimes for access to this magic little phone. It doesn’t even come with a spiral cord and it lets you pretend, so much more convincingly to little Junior, that you’re totally watching him slide down the slide for the fiftieth time.

Its only drawback? Societal judgment. Well, fuck off, society, because you’re all doing the same damn thing, and our parents, grandparents, and great-great-great grandparents have been doing the same damn thing for millennia. Only now, it comes in a handy little electronic case you can hold in your palm. It has pretty graphics. It’s flashy and shiny. It lets you google the nearest Starbucks and group chat Judy and Lisa and Alice all at the same time. In a world where we don’t have real neighbors, real connections, real mom groups to go out with, this stuff is important.

So stop judging that mom on her cell phone. Stop pretending we didn’t ignore our kids before cell phones. Our parents ignored us. Our grandparents ignored them. And their parents before them, and their parents before them, and back down the evolutionary chain. At least our kids aren’t stumbling into demon-possessed Marlena scenes or or finding dog-eared Fifty Shades of Fabio on the couch.

So pick up your phone. Do it without guilt. Do it without shame. Know your forefathers have done this since forever. And give some side-eye to that judgy chick on the playground. Bitch about her to Judy and Lisa and Alice. And ignore Junior. He’ll be fine. We were fine. And so were our forefathers before us.

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