The girl on the train

The other day I was sitting on a train next to a family with two children, a boy and a girl. The girl was about eight years old and she was restless. She kept getting up and walking around, standing on chairs and trying to get her mother’s attention. Her younger brother was sitting quietly, looking out the window watching the sunny Dutch landscape go by. I wasn’t really paying attention to them, until the girl said “Mom is always on her phone, isn’t she dad?”

Interestingly, I recently read a study about how children are feeling increasingly ignored due to their parents’ smartphone use. Sherry Turkle also writes about this in her book Alone Together (a fascinating read for those interested in the impacts of technology). Sherry describes a scene where a young girl jumps into her mother’s car after a day at school but her mother barely even acknowledges her, as she’s busy typing away on her phone.

The issue is real

I don’t have children so I haven’t experienced this myself, but when I heard that young girl complain to her dad on the train the other day – about her mother’s smartphone use – I realized how real of an issue this must be. The mother was indeed glued to her phone, as I am quite often too, and barely looked up when the girl called her out on it. I realized that her restless behavior was probably a way to get her mother to pay attention to her. That thought made me very sad.

The study I mentioned earlier was conducted among 1849 youngsters between 13 and 18 years old and 637 parents. As much as 40 percent of these youngsters say they are worried about their parents’ smartphone use. Moreover, a third indicated hat they often ask their parents to stop staring at their phone. More worryingly: 32 percent of parents use their smartphones while driving, which greatly concerns these youngsters.

The girl on the train

The goal of the study was to make people aware of their smartphone use and, perhaps, whether or not they may be addicted to their smartphone. I can’t help thinking about the girl on the train (not that girl – the girl and her parents 🙂 ). Her father didn’t comment (or I don’t recall him commenting) and so the girl kept restlessly kicking the chairs and annoying her little brother. All the while, her mother barely looked up.

This makes me wonder if she’s aware of her phone use and how much it apparently bothers her daughter. I wonder if her husband’s aware. I wonder if her son is bothered by it too and I wonder how it will influence that little girl. Perhaps not at all – but if we’re talking about awareness, I doubt her mother’s aware of it. And if she is, she clearly doesn’t think it’s a problem. They were on a train after all. Perhaps she puts the phone away as soon as the train ride’s over. I hope so. And I really hope that if I have a daughter one day she won’t have to jump up and down to get my attention, away from my phone. I don’t love my phone that much.

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