Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as "outrageous," "painfully real," and "downright humiliating." Author of the dark comedy fiction novel "The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt," Joe is also writing a parenting humor book. He will be posting twice monthly and his previous posts can be found here. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
"When I was a kid..."
The very phrase evokes an eye roll before the sentence is even completed. It's undeniably preachy, and above all else, it's what your father said when you were eight and what you promised yourself you'd never say. But we do say it, don't we?
"When I was a kid, the Internet didn't even exist!"
"When I was a kid, we could only talk to people on this foreign concept called a land line."
The list, as they say, goes on. But clearly, as time marches forward, the forthcoming generation simply won't be able to grasp how much easier they have it now than those who came before them. And if you're anything like me, you not only want your children to appreciate their current amenities, but you don't want them to get so engulfed in those amenities that they lose appreciation for the natural highs in life that have existed far longer than Wi-Fi.
My father hosted a party last weekend for the family. The weather was impossibly perfect, especially for swimming. I was marveling at my 5-year-old's rapidly expanding ability to hold his breath underwater for increased periods of time. After the pool, my brother-in-law and I sanctioned a wiffle ball game for our 5 and 6-year-old sons, while our younger children held hands and babbled incoherently to each other, skipping mindlessly through the grass. We played with towels wrapped around our waists, intermittently taking a timeout for a bite of whatever was coming off the grill. As the sun began to set, a cake was brought out with candles lit to commemorate the birthdays of me and my sister. With the buttercream still stuffed into their cheeks, all four of the children grabbed empty tomato sauce jars and began gleefully hustling around the backyard, in hopes of capturing the highest number of fireflies. And it was at this moment when I saw my nephew poking holes in the lid -- so his illuminating prisoner could breathe -- that I realized something important...
No one was on their phones.
I'll be the first to admit that I often feel an unhealthy, obsessive connection with my iPhone. After all, it has a great deal to offer. It helps me connect instantly with practically anyone I know. It contains a calculator, a camera, a flashlight, a compass, maps, games, music, email, and of course, access to an Internet that has the answer to practically any question I could conceivably ask. But it can't stand behind you to help adjust your swing. No kid ever pleaded with his mother to let him swim in an online swimming pool. And I'm pretty sure catching virtual fireflies would be pretty boring. In other words, I won't pretend that smartphones and tablets aren't a part of my children's landscape, but I'd be remiss if I didn't put them in situations where they could thrive, or merely eat a burger without having to post a selfie of him eating said burger on Instagram.
So, here's hoping that when my children (and all of our children) are in their 30s and 40s and beyond, that they aren't reminiscing about how many likes their Facebook post got, but instead sharing memories marked with human connection, social interaction, and time spent with arms wrapped around the ones they love.
Perhaps I'm falling right into the "when I was a kid" trap I vowed I wouldn't. Or perhaps I'm subconsciously trying to have my sons experience childhood the same way I did. Maybe it's both. But regardless, I feel that it's every parent's duty to "referee" their child's relationship with technology. At a certain point, it will be out of our hands, of course. But if we don't show our children the beauty of the natural world, can we trust an iPhone app to do it for us?
Thanks for reading, and feel free to join the conversation below or tweet me here.
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Image: Family playing on green grass in spring park via Shutterstock.com