Parents, This School Year….
Just. Put. The. Phone. Down.
Okay, I know that’s a scary title. I’m not asking you to stop playing Candy Crush…Is that what’s in right now? Or whatever the latest mobile game phenom is. I’m not criticizing your endless scrolling through Facebook or Reddit. I’m not even telling you that it’s hypocritical to nag your kids about their screen time while you have zero restraints in place on your own. Not quite, anyway.
See, school has started back. The fall concerts and winter recitals and sporting events and marching band performances are in full swing. And we will do what all parents do now, whip out the smart phone and hit record. We’ll hold our phones up high, and elbow past other parents to get a good shot of our sweetie. We’ll try to zoom in, even though it always just makes things blurry. We will do what it takes to capture every moment of our sweet children’s precious lives.
A few years ago, my oldest son was performing in something. What was it? I don’t know, which is part of the problem. But I had my phone out to try to get a video of it, and I glanced around at everyone else doing the same thing. My gaze went back to the stage where all the kids were trying their best to remember their lines, or their dance choreography, or hit just the right pitch in the song (I really don’t even remember what they were doing!) and I wondered what it must look like on their side of the stage.
They were not looking out at an audience of parents beaming with pride. They didn’t see parents sitting in their folding chairs with encouraging smiles on their faces.
They saw screens. An endless sea of screens, held high and low, they saw parents with pinched faces, squinting at their screens, making sure they had the stage decor captured just so around their kid in the frame, finger hovering over the record button to be sure they started and stopped at just the right time.
I put my phone away and just watched. Smiled an encouraging smile at my kid, and at any kid who made eye contact. I just watched him perform.
I’ve been a parent for a while. Thirteen years, to be exact, and in that time there have been monumental shifts in technology and just how integrated it is in our lives. Eight to ten years ago, I had my digital camera out at these events. I snapped a few pictures, then put it away to watch. Now, everyone has a smartphone. Most parents I know (myself included sometimes) are completely wrapped up in CAPTURING EVERY MOMENT. We record videos. We take cute Snapchat pictures. We take not a few pictures of important events, but a few hundred. We post to social media. We plan out exactly which pictures we need with which friends so that we can tag each other. We document ALL THE THINGS!!
But again, why?
My mother in law passed on a couple of boxes of my husband’s childhood pictures to me. She knew that I love documenting, and photos, and I’d get them organized in albums sooner or later. As I spread them out and started sorting by year, we joked about what a task it was. That she’d passed on the work to me. Guys, it was an entire childhood in two photo boxes. And it was a lot of work.
Guess how many photos I have of my kids in this digital age? Tens of thousands. By the time the last one graduates, I have no doubt I’ll be at or near one hundred thousand pictures.
Technology makes it easier to save these memories. I get that, and I appreciate that.
But at what point does the sheer amount of media I have, and the labor of managing it, and the task of even looking through photos, outweigh the convenience?
What am I supposed to do with all these photos and videos? Print them in albums? No thanks, I’d rather not spend $7,587 at a time at the Walgreens Photo Lab, not to mention I’d have to build another room just to house the albums. Keep buying more hard drives? Because it’s such a fun and nostalgic time to dig out a hard drive and stare at a screen together looking at 94 pictures of that one time we flew kites…
And what will they do with it, the kids, the ones who we are really doing this for? Up until this point in time, pictures were special. People paid a lot of money to have portraits taken, they cherished photos in albums and scrapbooks, they may have had only a handful of pictures of their entire childhoods to look back on fondly. Will our kids even care? Will pictures and documentation of their childhood mean to them what it does to us? They are so inundated with media of all kinds, nearly all the time. I don’t know that they’ll sit around perusing the albums, or the fancy family yearbook you pay some company to automatically create from your phone’s camera library, or the photo slideshow video you painstakingly create to commemorate each year. And if they do care, are we leaving them a legacy or a burden?
About those concert, recital, and performance videos….I know we have good intentions. But how many have you actually sat down and watched later? With your kids, the stars of the show, or with other friends and family members to show off little sweetie’s rendition of “You Are My Sunshine”? Personally, I’ve watched maybe two or three videos of performances after the fact. Out of hundreds.
The husband of a friend of mine shared a picture of smartphones held high and blocking the stage last spring, after trying to watch his daughter at a choir concert. He complained that with all those phones in the air, he couldn’t watch his kid perform. People chimed in with their agreements to what a madhouse it was. Some offered suggestions they’d seen other schools do, where the administration doesn’t allow recording and instead has one tripod camera to record the whole show and then puts it on YouTube. Of course some parents don’t want their kids on YouTube, so that can get complicated. Some people suggested banding together with a group of parents and agreeing that only one of you will record and then share it with everyone else.
And of course, some parents said “JUST WATCH YOUR KID. LIVE.”
There may not be a clear answer to how to handle this, and everyone is different. But I do know that I don’t want my kids to think that what’s on a screen or phone is more important than real life being played out in front of them.
I don’t want them to go somewhere amazing and be more worried about capturing the perfect picture or finding the perfect filter than just enjoying the moment.
Our kids are always watching us and learning from us, the good and the bad. So for me, I try to scale back on the recording and photographing. It’s not easy when parents around me are whipping out their phones, to leave mine in my purse and just watch.
But it’s worth it. Because I SEE so much more, and -more importantly- my kids SEE me SEEING them.
As for all those videos and pictures? I am still acquiring them, I just try to be more picky about what moments and memories I choose to document and preserve. And I spend a lot of time going back through my photo library, culling it down (don’t need 17 poses of my kid sitting on a tire swing, I’ll just find the best two or three), and enjoying it. So far I’ve got the year 2005 done. The year I became a mother. Slowly but surely, I’m plowing through, because it is important to me that our family can access and enjoy precious memories.