Hey Dad: Get Off Your Smartphone While Your Kid Kicks and Punches People

As a 54 year old father of an 18 month old child as well as the parent of 4 mostly grown kids and step-parent of an 18 year old and 16 year old, I think I am qualified to comment on certain aspects of parenting skills.  So yesterday, when I took the baby to a local park, I saw something that seems to recur almost every time I venture to one of the local little-kidcentric playgrounds in my neighborhood.  It's the dreaded parent on a smartphone.

Don't get me wrong, I am as guilty as the next guy checking my phone too many times during the day.  In fact, a recent survey indicates that adults in this country are swiping on their smartphones 2 1/2 hours per day.  That, folks, is disturbing at best.  Nevertheless, if you are taking your kids to a park, that should at least be a time when you can keep the phone in your pocket and pay attention to what your child is doing and, probably, trying to show you.

The culprit yesterday was a dad of about 40 who was at the park without his spouse, girlfriend, significant other, whatever.  He was apparently there to supervise his little square-headed boy, about 4 years old, and two sleeping twins in a double-buggy type device.  His son, let's call him Chip, was wearing wraparound sunglasses and was the first kid my daughter Sasha and I saw when we arrived.

It's easy to tell the kid or kids at the park whose parents aren't paying attention to them and are more engrossed with their smartphone than the child.  This is the kid who is running around, acting like a fool and very often terrorizing the other kids.  I saw Chip's dad at the far edge of this somewhat circular park, spending minute after minute staring and scrolling around his Blackberry (yeah, it was a Blackberry).  Now some may say that I am insensitive because Chip's dad may have an important job that requires constant contact with his employer and co-workers.  On a Sunday? Yeah right, we're all important aren't we?

So, as dad scrolls and taps away on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Chip comes over to the toddler slide to see how he can bother Sasha.  Chip's plan was to slide down right after Sasha had plopped her way down at the bottom of the green plastic ramp and see what damage he could do.  Mind you, this is one of those two-person side by slide devices so Chip could have gone to the slide right next to the innocent little girl.  But no, as dad continued to tap away and look at topless photos of Lindsay Lohan, Chip got to the bottom of the slide and swung his chunky foot at my daughter.  He missed and I happily told him to go find something else to do.  Specifically, "We don't kick people here, why don't you go away?"  He left.

 Gratuitous photo of park-going toddler.

Several minutes later, Chip wandered back and this time invaded a toddler hanging bar to bother a girl close to his age.  As Chip edged closer to the little girl and got ready to do something nasty, I again looked over at dad.  This time he was sitting on a bench, shoulders hunched, and deeply engrossed in some miniscule message that was clearly more important than paying attention to his kid.  Chip did not disappoint - as the little girl swung lazily from the bar, Chip reached over and tried to punch her in the shoulder.  She backed away, dropped off the bar, and went to her mother.  Chip smiled an evil smile with an unseen expression behind his evil sunglasses and hung on the bar for a minute.

Ten minutes later, as Sasha and I were getting ready to leave, Chip walked into a group of older girls - maybe 9 or 10 years old - and pushed one of them for, of course, no reason.  She pushed him back and sent him running over to dad.

As Chip ran across the park to his dim-faced, shoulder-hunched father, the girls went back to their game, the little girl he tried to punch climbed up the steps to a slide, and Sasha drank her grape juice.  Chip tapped his father on the back and received just what I expected:  The universal hand-wave meaning "just a minute, I'm busy right now," as dad scrolled and tapped for a few seconds more while Chip hopped around trying to get his attention.

About two minutes later, dad lifted his head and saw Chip sitting on all fours next to the park bench.  Not a minute was spent playing with Chip, not a minute was spent praising Chip, and not a minute was spent even watching Chip run, climb, swing, or do anything.  Dad got up, shoved the phone into his pocket and grabbed the handle of the buggy with the twins and started to walk out of the park.  Almost as an afterthought, he turned and called out something to Chip who got up, adjusted his sunglasses and trudged, expressionless, after dad and his two siblings.

If you're a parent of a small child and feel like you're not the best parent in the world or even somewhere near the median, go to the park and leave your phone in the car.  You'll wind up feeling really good about yourself and your kid might like you too.

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