As many parents of teenagers understand, our time to connect with them is rare and valuable. Add in the competition of the illustrious cell phone, and eye contact with these teens is almost nonexistent.
So, as my daughter and I walked into her orthodontist appointment, I made a conscious effort to focus only on her and to ask about her day. In just two minutes, I was able to learn about her finals and even get her to laugh with me about her chewed-up retainer (thanks to our sweet dog, Cosmo!).
When they called her to come in for her appointment, without thought, I grabbed my phone and started scrolling. I checked the weather, then Instagram and then played a couple of rounds of Words with Friends, until something made me stop in my tracks.
“Hey, look,” a young boy next to me said as he and his mom stepped into the waiting room. “Every single person in here is looking at their phone.”
A young boy told his mom that we were all on our cell phones
I shamefully looked up from mine and glanced quickly around the crowded waiting room, which consisted of about 15 parents and children, all focused intently on their devices.
I made eye contact with the mom: “Wow, he is absolutely right,” I said. “No one is having a conversation or flipping through a magazine or even just looking out the window.” She and I laughed about it and also noted how sad it is. Even that alone was an interaction I would not have had with that woman, had it not been for that mindful boy.
Meanwhile, my phone was now zipped away in my purse, having what felt like a much – needed timeout punishment. I did this not purely out of shame (although there certainly was a component of that there), but I did it to truly take advantage of the opportunity to notice my surroundings.
I grabbed a magazine at a nearby table. I looked out the window at the grey sky and the snow covering the trees. I observed other people — parents and children all buried in their devices.
As the minutes progressed, I did feel urges to check my email. I did not succumb, but I noted how disappointing it felt to even be in a position wherein discipline was required to simply not look at my device. I then thought about the wisdom that so many children have: They oftentimes have the ability to be more present, to be more observant and to be more blunt with expressing what they see and feel.
I was so grateful that this boy, who was about 10 years old, made me “wake up” by vocalizing his observation. The truth is, I am cognizant when I am with my children or friends: I know that these are treasured opportunities to connect and to be together. But, I took for granted the ability to connect when I am alone. I forgot about the power of the unknown … the strangers … even the children who, surprisingly, may step in front of us as unexpected teachers.
Maybe the next time I am in a waiting room, I’ll now notice a cardinal landing on a branch outside of a window. Maybe I’ll strike up a conversation with a stranger, one who somehow gently impacts my future path.
Maybe I’ll close my eyes for a moment and breathe and just appreciate the uninterrupted moment of calm. It is ironic, but this brief encounter with a 10-year-old stranger has not only inspired me to write, it has altered my future.
I will no longer bury my head in my phone in every waiting room, elevator, line, etc. Of course, I will peek from time to time. I will respond to work emails when necessary. I will text my friends. But, I also will balance that with a new awareness. I will carry this reminder with me and will not fall into the pattern of being so disconnected from the unknown. I will remember the wisdom that I gained by simply looking up and paying attention to a wise boy’s candid observation.