It was a beautiful winter day. The weather was mild and the Prairie ice was just right for skating.
I was thrilled to see a young boy navigating his wobbly way around the ice. It was obvious he was new to the sport.
Dad sat faithfully on a nearby bench and not once did he look up from his cellphone. I sat and watched, and waited, but there was no recognition from father of the son — his triumphs or troubles. And I thought about this new kind of loneliness that children must feel when being second to a hand-held device.
If you ever have felt lonely in a relationship, then you know that it is a deep and dark kind of lonely. When someone you love does not see you or hear you — the whole you — then it is like living in isolation from the present. Just as this child may feel a vast void between who he is and who he is seen as. The risk is that only the bad behaviour will be noticed and the expressions of love that are so empowering are lost.
I recall judging an outdoor cattle show in which boys were being yelled at by their parents. Some 10-year-old boys are small, and a 1,200-pound steer is still a 1,200-pound steer. If the steer should decide not to move, then he just simply doesn’t and the boy at the halter may need help in convincing the beast to move ahead. It got to the point where I shut down the show, asked the children to take a break and asked the parents to sit in the car. I would not tolerate the verbal abuse of a child. If someone hadn’t noticed until now that the steer would balk, I wonder where the supporting adult was on the farm.
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To be a parent requires being present. To become a leader takes being in the present. And to be a source of empowerment to those around us will require our undivided attention. While it is true that smartphones and their apps allow for us to monitor our robots in dairy barns, order parts on the fly, and a multitude of other time-saving actions, they do not have to own our free time to the point where the voice of a child is unheard.
Digital distraction goes beyond ignoring the feelings of a child and may play a part in farm safety.
On the positive side, a text about a flat tire, downed tree, broken part, or flooded road is most certainly both time saving and improves the safety on the farm. Being distracted, however, brings on a host of risks including striking children, animals, or objects with vehicles; weaving off the road; catching a fence with an implement; rolling; missed information; and a wide array of ‘what ifs.’
Farming takes attention to detail every second of the day.
Our physical health is important but does our fixation to digital play a role in mental health? I reviewed several studies regarding the constant use of cellphones by parents and the impact on children. When children were asked about their parents’ cellphone use, they felt “unimportant.” Many relied on bad behaviour to attract attention. Interestingly, parents were also concerned about their own use of the phone and knew they were setting a bad example, but did not intend to stop.
Because technology changes all the time, it is like an addiction. Adults of every age are intrigued and also need the time to learn how to use the new devices and programs. So before we point fingers at the parents alone, perhaps we should look at the system or the culture — which keeps us embedded in both the known and the unknown, and drives our changes in behaviour.
The FOMO effect (fear of missing out) is something that marketing relies on heavily to get consumers to continuously buy products or technology. All ages are now prone to FOMO as they are wired 24 hours a day to messages, information, marketing, and entertainment. For both children and adults, this has been proven to result in both anxiety from the fear of missing out and an increase in depression from not being recognized by a tribe on social media.
In our societal fear of missing out, we are inadvertently creating a false sense of what matters. I recall a conversation with an adult man who said, “I don’t need my wife — look at all my new friends on Facebook!”
Shockingly true, both adults and children are measuring their worth by their non-physical social contacts. But it may leave us empty as humans. Children are the first to feel this loneliness but it is happening between couples, with friends, and on the job.
Being present in our homes, workplace, and communities is just that — staying in the moment and embracing the beauty of conversation and experience. It is the ignition of all of our senses so we can train the brain to remember and to enjoy those feelings of worth and belonging.
It is up to us as individuals in our culture to nurture belonging and ease or erase this new kind of loneliness.