Making Room to Listen

2 Big-Hearted Projects to Silence your phone & listen. DoingGoodTogether.org
2 Big-Hearted Projects to Silence your phone & listen. DoingGoodTogether.org

We try to listen to others. We do. But inadvertently our thoughts scan a mental to-do list or queue up something interesting to say.

Or all too often, we covertly scan our cell phones. For many of us, fiddling with our phones has become so ubiquitous it is almost invisible.

Here’s the problem.

While we are knee deep in our digital news feed, life is happening without us.

We are addicted to our phones.

(Incidentally, have you followed us on Facebook?)

As parents, we’re not only modeling distracted – and yes, rude – behavior. We’re missing the reality of our days, the soul, so to speak, of those around us.

I’m not lecturing here. I’m confessing.

Somehow, in the span of two years, I’ve gone from the girl who chronically forgets her cell phone on the charger, to the one whose kids remind her to put it down.

Let me rephrase that: my kids have had to ask for my attention over the screen of my phone.

In the chaotic dash to the end of school, each of my three kids asked me to step away from my gadget.

Maybe I was rearranging the family calendar to accommodate the flood of obligations in May or responding to pleas from the school to help with the dervish of year-end events.

Maybe it all felt terribly urgent.

But was it urgent enough to miss, or half-hear, the stories from my daughter's last days of kindergarten? Certainly not.

It’s embarrassing to admit that pit-in-my-stomach moment!I’m not alone. Recent news reports demonstrate just how much we parents are addicted to our phones.

What’s the Trouble with Distracted Parenting?

  • It’s Dangerous! According to the Wall Street Journal article “The Perils of Texting While Parenting,” excessive texting may be landing our kids in the emergency room for injuries that, before 2007, had been decreasingly common.

  • It’s Demoralizing! Our kids care how we respond to them, and they are noticing our distraction. Who among us (digital addicts like me, I mean) hasn’t heard a kid comment along the lines of, “Mom, put your phone down and talk to me!” Or “If you have tech time, why can’t I?” In this great piece from a New York Times blog, “Parents, Wired to Distraction” Dr. Steiner-Adair reminds us:

We as parents have to be much more mindful about how our own wiring is interacting with technology in those moments when our children need us.
  • It Isn't What We Want Even as we fiddle with our phones, we know we should put them away. There is something about our brain’s wiring that ranks the urgency of responding to an email above the urgency of the small voice next to us asking for a walk in the park. As a result, we’re compelled to chase the next tidbit worth sharing on social media or type the next witty text/tweet/update. We “share” moments when we aren’t fully experiencing them.According to Seth Horowitz, author of a piece in the New York Times entitled “The Science and Art of Listening,”

’You never listen’ is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.

Here’s the good news: we can practice listening.

We can beat this particular lapse in kindness, at least in our own homes, more easily than we can tackle most other issues.

Try these two projects, and see what a difference listening makes.

PROJECT 1: Create a PhoneDock

Invite family members and visitors alike to leave their phones just out of reach. Create an attractive resting place, charger adjacent, in a quiet room. Remind yourself and visitors that you can dash in there to check your phone as often as you like, but you must leave the company of others to do so.

Charging station for guests: gentle reminder to peek at phones only when not engaging with company. Practice Listining!
Charging station for guests: gentle reminder to peek at phones only when not engaging with company. Practice Listining!

No more covert glances at your phone while others are talking!

Maybe this becomes a family time ritual for you. Or maybe you just make this request during specific times of day or even certain holidays.

We've used the Phone Dock for a few weeks. If we’re home together, the phones are out of sight.

It has helped.My partner and I are more present. My kids now compete more with each other for my attention than with gadgets.

PROJECT 2: Challenge Friends & Family to Tap for UNICEF

Put your cell phone’s inactive time to work with UNICEF's Tap Project.

This beautifully created site tracks your inactive phone time and provides inspiring notes to raise awareness about the 768 million people who lack access to clean water.

Challenge your co-parent or teen to see whose phone remains idle longest. Place a bet that can serve as a donation to UNICEF's worthy cause.

Simply visit  uniceftapproject.org.  Watch the video on How it Works.

Tap for UNICEF: put your idle phone to use and practice listening to those around you
Tap for UNICEF: put your idle phone to use and practice listening to those around you

“The soul is contained in the voice,” says David Isay, creator of Storycorps, the incredible organization that gives people the opportunity to record, share, and listen to one another’s stories.

This summer, join my family and commit to taming excessive cell phone use and learning to listen to the souls around us.