On a sparkling, 70-degree winter day in Arizona, my 2-year-old son and I raced around the park. He loves to run and for me to chase. Another toddler boy joined in, and off we went, easily running a half-mile from where we started. I kept looking forward at my son and back at the little one following us. His mother was nowhere in sight. I felt responsible for this child I’d never seen.
We returned to the sandbox area, and I yelled out, “Whose little guy is this?” His mother looked up from her cellphone and said: “Mine. Why?”
“He was running off with us to the other side of the park.”
She looked surprised and started to scold him: “You have to stay in this area and not leave.” She then returned to staring at her phone. Whatever she was reading was more compelling than her son.
I told the story to a neighbor, and she recounted a time she watched in horror a mother who was too busy on her cellphone to notice her toddler’s hand getting stuck in an elevator door.
Everywhere I turn these days, people are paying attention to their phones instead of their kids. Recently my son and I were playing basketball at our local community center. We were there for almost two hours running and throwing a ball around. A woman approached me and said: “You are a good mother.” I asked why. “I’ve been watching you play with your son while I’ve been working out, and you are really paying attention to him. The days are long, but the years fly by quickly.”
Everyone wants attention. Kids especially need it. Putting my phone away is a win-win. I’m more aware of my surroundings, and every day my son shows me new aspects of himself—stringing together sentences with new words, helping trees when their branches have fallen off (his solution is to tape them back on). These precious moments are fleeting and easy to miss.
Like most people, I’m addicted to my phone, but I do my best to stay focused on what really matters. Those moments I waste mindlessly scrolling through social-media feeds and emails can never be gotten back.
Maybe it is time we all got off our damn cellphones and focused on our children. They’re worth our attention. They don’t wait to grow up, and if you miss these moments, they’re gone forever.
Ms. Siegel is a freelance reporter who covers international affairs, business and travel.