I’m not a phone person. I prefer face-to-face communication whenever possible. The modern fascination with electronic devices mystifies me. I’ve become accustomed to people staring down at their gadgets, though I still wince when they ignore their companions — especially when their companion is me.

The worst excess is seeing parents playing with their phones instead of their kids. Is pushing a swing that boring? The greatest gift we can give our kids is our undivided attention. Plus, my wife and I suffered many kid-related disasters because one of us was on the phone. 

I heard about a father who was supposed to be watching his son at the mall. The phone-distracted dad didn’t notice his boy climb a fence and enter the mini-train yard. The boy laid down on the tracks directly in the path of the kiddie-train.  It ran over his legs, causing the train to derail. No one was seriously hurt but how do you explain the bruises to his mom? I would have bribed the kid’s silence with ice cream.

I’m not alone in believing parents should put away their phones in the presence of their kids. Rachel Stafford is a recovering electronics-addict who publishes a blog, www.handsfreemama.com. Stafford came to the realization that texting, talking and playing games on her phone was coming between her and her two young daughters. Compulsively taking their picture was also causing her to “miss out on the moment.”

To avoid missing more moments, Stafford proposes drastic measures. These include removing social media apps from the phone or putting the devices away in a drawer. The site also includes inspirational essays, like “The Art of Showing Up” and cautionary ones like “How to Miss a Childhood.” 

Not everyone believes being a hands-free mama is a good idea. One mother claimed to be so adept at multitasking that she can still keep an eye on her kids. Another told me these devices are necessary for getting directions and communicating with other parents. A third mentioned the phones have apps that keep kids quiet in restaurants. 

Personally, I’d rather interact with a kid than a phone. When our kids were toddlers, they were way more entertaining than any TV show. Now when I watch my grandsons, I don’t want us to be distracted by screens. I’d rather play cars, blocks and other three-dimensional games with them. They are captivating and exhausting in equal measure. 

Of course, there are times they don’t want to play with their “papa.” They would prefer to curl up with their iPad. I don’t understand why they find this so entertaining. But if these had been around when I was a kid, I probably would never have left the house. I would have been a pale, sickly child instead of the third-string right-fielder. 

I don’t take phone calls when I’m on grandkid duty. I’m worried that the 1-year-old might get hurt if I’m not constantly vigilant. I also don’t read the news, check Facebook, or deal with emails. Those are off-duty pastimes. I know when to stop scrolling my phone when I realize, “I already read this depressing story” or “I already saw what so-and-so had for breakfast.” 

I’m finally comfortable with texting, but I’m not very adept at it. My fingers are pudgy, so I press the wrong keys. I haven’t learned to use my thumbs. I know many young people who can text as fast as they talk. Have you ever observed a group of them furiously texting each other, even though they’re in the same room? It’s enough to make you LOL.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.