I counted 12 parents – including myself – sitting on the benches around the playground at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, IL last week. At one point, every single adult was looking down at their phone while scads of kids energetically played. Disgusted, I embarrassingly put my phone away and began watching my daughters play and interact with other kids. I clapped for them, smiled at them and responded when they looked over at me.
All these little kids laughing, hollering, waving, and… desiring. Desiring an audience from their their parents. They love the attention. They love the response. It’s not like parents have to oddly watch their kids every minute, closing out the rest of the world, but I will say this: eye contact is missing these days. Kids aren’t going to know us, they’re going to know the top of our heads. We’re teaching them to receive our full attention they must be crying, yelling or causing trouble. They need us to pay attention.
Eye contact is important. It’s not just what you say, but it’s how you look when you say it. It’s the compassion that you show with your expressions. A few days ago, my three year old was sitting on my lap. As I was looking at my phone, she also has a little phone – a pencil eraser made to look like a phone. She had all the moves. She knew exactly what to do. Her little thumb was flying! She patiently sat and worked with the fake buttons. After a little bit, she handed me her “phone” and said, “It’s dead. It needs charged. Can I use yours?”
I wondered what her little mind was thinking – she was probably wondering, “this doesn’t seem to be as much fun as everyone makes it seem”. She is only mimicking me.
Like the rest of our culture, I use my phone for everything – from email, to social connections to tuning my guitar. And it’s not going to change anytime soon. But, I still need to create plenty of time to look my daughters and my wife in the eyes. To ask questions, to smile and to encourage. I need to be fully engaged while we are together.
Eye contact… I don’t have any scientific proof, but I know it makes a difference.