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Hey Parents, Put the Phones Down & Enjoy the Show

Courtesy of Thuc Vu

Courtesy of Thuc Vu

It’s the time of year when many of us make resolutions. We resolve to eat better, exercise more, be more patient with our kids, and not let the junk mail pile up on the kitchen table. Parents, I’m calling for a different resolution–one that asks us to be present in the moment instead of glued to a screen. 

No, I’m not talking about the hours our offspring spend navigating Minecraft or texting their friends. I’m talking about the time we spend behind the camera when our children are up on stage, making their amazing debut on the violin or clarinet, singing a four-line solo in a concert, or pointing their toes in an ill-thought-out version of Hannah’s Nutcracker.

Capturing those moments digitally has led to a phenomenon I call the “Sea of Screens.” It starts with one parent innocently pulling out a cell phone to “record a song for Aunt Joan who has never heard Debbie play before” and ten minutes later, parents are jockeying for position between the shoulders of other parents in front and behind, alternatively raising and lowering phones, palm-sized cameras and even iPads in an attempt to record this Extremely Important Moment in their children’s lives.

The jockeying for position begins even earlier at the next performance, be it band, orchestra or chorus, as parents remember the difficulty of seeing their offspring between the head and screen of those in front of them during the last performance they attended. So they arrive earlier this time, hoping to snag the best seat in the house–the one that offers obstruction-free filming opportunities.

They incessantly question their children about where they will be sitting or standing for the performance, leading to fits of anxiety about the ability to capture it all on camera (was it stage left or house left? Should I sit stage right or house right? And why is she in the back row if she is so short?). And I’m not even talking about the big fear–the Fear of Losing Battery Power Right in the Middle of the Solo.

Parents, please. Let’s take a breath. Let’s stop the madness. Think for just a moment about what our children see as they look out into the audience (which, admittedly, they’re not supposed to be doing, but we know they do it anyway). Think back–way back, for some of us–to our own school concerts and our performances. Think of the thrill of searching the audience and finally catching a glimpse of your parent or loved one, of knowing that someone who cared about you came to see you. Think about catching that person’s eye during the performance. Remember the smile?

Personally, I remember the red dot–the indication that there was a video camera trained on me to capture any imperfection in my performance. There seemed to be a direct correlation in my mind–no red dot = no additional pressure = better performance. My peers might have been better at ignoring the red dots than I was.

Today, the tiny dots scattered around the audience are a thing of the past. But as the technology itself has gotten smaller (no more gigantic camcorders on tripods cluttering up the aisles), the screens themselves on the devices have gotten larger. And the net result–camcorder or iPhone or iPad–is the same. Our kids don’t see our faces, either. How could they? They can only see devices. And we in the audience can only see a Sea of Screens–omnipresent, glaring and distracting.

So please, from the back row of the gym, I’m begging you, put down the screen. Watch your children. Listen to the music with your whole person and memorize the feeling you get as it courses through your body. Look at your son or daughter’s facial expression. Be in the moment.

If you really must have a copy of the performance, don’t worry. I guarantee someone else around you is probably recording it.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Thuc Vu

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