Updated: Dec 7, 2018
“I’m convinced of this: good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather then walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good”. -Maya Angelou
A few years back while waiting in line at Target, a young kid, couldn’t be more then 10, was paying for a chocolate bar at the self checkout teller. He rang his candy through, counted his change, then frantically started digging through his pockets. Noticing, I walked over, embarrassed, he told me he was short a dime, so I handed him a dime, and on we went. Clearly this story isn’t to claim myself a hero, it was a dime after all, but it initiated a conversation between my husband and I about how most people are on their phones while waiting in a line. I get it, a few minutes in line isn’t hurting anyone, right?
Being a product of my upbringing is why I wasn't on my phone. Growing up, my parents, like many, didn’t have a ton of money-so my mom was always calculating our grocery total as it moved along the conveyor belt, removing this vegetable, then recounting her money, then removing that cereal, then she’d get the total and have to remove some more. So, I promised myself that when I am in a line, that I will stay present. Of course, sometimes I prove myself wrong, but that particular moment with my trusty dime, I didn’t.
Innocent moments where it feels ok to not be present-while my kids bathe in the tub, all 3 playing and laughing, clearly not needing my help to have fun, I will sit browsing the days emails. Sending them to watch a quick show on their own while I clean up after dinner or send one to read on their own while we get the other ones ready for bed. In the same fashion that I do to them, my son has literally taken my head and softly said “look at my eyes, mama”. The list can go on. That’s not mentioning how many times my husband and I sit across from each other reading the news, not talking, or out in public, waiting at the doctor’s office, again, catching up on the days latest and greatest.
On average from Mon-Fri, we see my 6-year-old a total of 20 hrs! That includes the usual, rushing them to get ready in the morning, rushing to eat, to RUUUUN and catch the bus. Then the same routine afters school-rushing for dinner and clean up and showers and bedtimes.
In her new book, “Dare to Lead”, Brene Brown says that:
“Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. Not in the heroic deeds or highly visible actions but through paying attention and gestures of genuine care and connection.”
Genuine care and connection... small moments. I'm not sure I have enough small moments in my week to even make a proper stack.
How many opportunities are we missing to connect? It probably feels minimal, but if we stacked all those “quick moments”, what would they add up to? Instead of calculating our screen time on our smart phones, they should find a way to calculate how many minutes a day we spend in face to face contact? Face to face, eyes to eyes-connecting. I think I’d be pretty embarrassed.
A study from the Canadian Pediatric Society states, “Parents report that their own use of mobile technology demands more intense attention than other distractions, such as reading books or watching TV. Smartphones blur the line between work and home life, timing is unpredictable and responding often requires emotional investment. In a recent study, parents reported that shifting attention between screens and family life can be stressful, tiring and reduces their ability to interact ‘in the moment’ with children”. I don’t think any of that comes as a surprise.
In his book “Hold Onto Your kids", Gabor Mate talks extensively about attachment parenting. He talks about how easily kids become peer orientated in a society where they are always surrounded in the greatest ratio by their peers (daycare school, sports etc.). How slowly the trust of an adult is replaced by the trust of friends and the detrimental effects this can have in terms of their mental health.
“Deepening social stresses and the growing sense of economic insecurity even in the midst of relative wealth have all combined to create a milieu in which calm, connected parenting is increasingly difficult. Precisely when parents and other adults need to form stronger attachment bonds with their children than ever before, they have less time and energy to do so. What protects the child from experiencing the brunt of all this stress is an attachment with a parent. It is attachment that matters: as long as the child is not attached to those who belittle him, there is relatively little damage done. The taunts can hurt and cause tears at the time, but the effect will not be long lasting. When the parent is the compass point, it is the messages he or she gives that are relevant. When tragedy and trauma happen, the child looks to the parent for clues whether or not to be concerned". -Gabor Mate
This is always reinforced for us when we take our kids INDIVIDUALY on dates, which doesn’t happen often enough. They LIGHT up. They talk and their eyes literally glisten with excitement while sharing their stories. If we can’t have the quantity with our children, do they not at least deserve the quality?
I can’t help but to wonder what affect this has on our communities-how do we build that village if we hardly have time to connect with our kids, those in our immediate environments who we care and love for. The other day at the playground I witnessed a group of young children approach a mom with puppy and as they pet and played with the pup the mom didn’t look up once to say hello, to make eye contact with these kids who were so enamored with her dog. But I get it, to be honest, the park is my relief time-kids play, I relax-it’s a win win situation. Or is it?
We look down when we walk, we look at our phones on the bus, in lines, and at restaurants.
The era of technology, of smart phones has made it easy to connect in many ways but it has also added excuses as to why we are lacking in face to face time, in actually connecting-work, emails, school, a quick reply to a text message, the excuses go on. I vividly recall feeling like a robot drawing up a clients blood work with hardly a word spoken between us as he responded to the”100’s of emails he had to get to”. That wasn’t an isolated event either. I can’t help but wonder what percent of our day is actually spent face to face with others, versus virtually and how lonely of a space virtual connection can be. We aren’t droids, we are walking talking breathing humans, we NEED connection.
We need to build a safety net of support within our families, within our immediate AND extended communities, to ensure nobody falls through. But with more and more people experiencing loneliness, even while amongst a group of people, how do we build this safety net?
Markham Heid, in his Time Magazine article titled “The Loneliness Epidemic” writes “loneliness is an emerging public health crisis...(and) is on par with obesity in terms of its impact on a persons risk of death.”
Further in the article, he writes about a A University of Pittsburg study that concluded that “people between the ages 19-32 who spend 2 hours or more a day on social media were twice as likely to feel isolated as those who spent less time”. There are similar stats to those aged 55+.
Within our government, we have The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (yup, I'm going there). It's Canada’s blue print for obtaining the essential, but difficult goal of health for all. Its objective is based on research showing strong evidence that people who have social supports are healthier then those who do not. We need “understanding and a sense of belonging that comes with being in a socially, physically, and economically supportive environment”. Makes sense, right? One of the health promotion strategies within the Ottawa Charter is “create supportive environments”, and this includes obvious things such as buildings, the air we breathe, social services and health systems. But at the root of it, I feel we need to reconnect, face to face, as communities to create those supportive environments. How do we see a person before a label, how do we offer a hand of support if we aren’t willing to look up for more then a few seconds.
Our communities are changing, there is research all over the place confirming this, just do a quick google search on how all over the world communities are becoming more isolated, lonelier. What long term effect will/ does this have on our kids?
“It is easier to build strong children then repair broken men”-Frederick Douglas
Each and every one of us needs to do our part to ensure that ALL of our children are seen, are supported, and can grow within healthy environments. We make up our communities, we make up these environments our kids are growing up in, are we being present. Are we supporting them adequately?
So, what can we do, individually, right now?
I think it’s simple. We slow down, we pay attention, we get more face to face time, and we reconnect. We need to give support and to build that trust with ALL the children in our communities in small ways. if We can’t have the quantity, it needs to be quality. We can have all the policies and procedures in place and with good intentions send our kids away to enhance their well being, but if it doesn’t start at home and get reinforced in our communities, how are we really supporting them? If we as community members keep looking down, how do we expect our children to look up and thrive?