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Put Down the Phone and Watch Your Kids’ Performance

Cell phone crowd

Once the calendar starts its perilous turn around the corner into June, we get into the thick of it: the onslaught of all those end-of-the-school-year events. The moving-up ceremonies, the concerts, the performances, the awards ceremonies, and the graduations. There are so many of them. (Yes, as a mom to six kids, I perhaps have more than most — but even parents of one kid know exactly what I’m talking about.)

All of these wonderful, important events are attended by a sea of proud parents and grandparents and siblings and cousins and caregivers. And in recent years, it seems like each and every one of those loving people spends the entire time holding up a phone or iPad to record every second of the proceedings.

And while this may surprise you, I am here to say: ENOUGH already. Because aren’t you just SICK of that aching wrist as you constantly have to adjust and readjust the angle and zoom of your phone as you hold it in the air? What a hassle, am I right?

Okay, I’m totally kidding. (I mean, yes, your wrist does hurt after an hour or so of intense kid-zooming, but that’s not my point.) Rather, I’m going to advise something so counterintuitive it will make your brain spin. Here goes: Put Down The Phone.

I’m not suggesting you send a drone up in the sky to take pics, or pay the kid violinist next to your performer a few bucks to strap a GoPro onto his head. (Both of those are ideas that I may or may not have explored in the past.) Rather, I’m saying that maybe you should take a few seconds and, as we tell our toddlers, “think about our choices.”

From preschool graduations to band concerts, I’ve sat through a lot of these events. But there were many times when my offspring on stage never even knew I was actually there, because more often than not, I didn’t have a clear view of the proceedings, despite having gotten there (un)reasonably early. Instead, I’ve watched these events transpire through someone else’s iPad screen as they held it aloft in order to capture their child.

Not only is that just rude, because, hello, other parents want to see their kid, too — like all the other parents who are in the 30 rows behind you and your iPad! But all this “filming” also sort of makes you wonder: What are we doing? In other words, aren’t all these beautiful — or cute or musical or torturous or emotional — ceremonies best watched through one’s very own pair of eyes, rather than a screen?

Yes, I understand the impulse to put “time in a bottle,” as it were. But not even the person who will one day love your kid more than life itself is going to want to watch every second of their graduation from nursery school. (Also, chances are that by then, the cloud, the equipment we’ve recorded them on and every other way we know of storing information will be obsolete anyway.)

And yes, there are exceptions to the no-phone rule: There are situations in which the screen can’t be avoided – like the time when my husband FaceTimed me into my son’s elementary school graduation because I was in the hospital  For whatever reason, sometimes parents can’t get to an event and they want to “be there” virtually, and I totally get that.

But when that’s the case, I really believe there’s a lot of merit to talking to the school administrators or teachers so as to make sure that you can do that in a way that is as unobtrusive as possible, both to the families seated around you and the children on the stage. And there are workarounds available. Some schools arrange to have a videographer — whether a parent or a professional —film the proceedings so parents can take a mental load off, and that’s definitely a great option if your school can swing it.

Because here’s the thing: Your kid wants to look out into the audience and see YOU, your face and your watering eyes touched with joy and emotion and smudged eyeliner. Your child wants to see you and his or her people there — and not the back of your smartphone or iPad or, worst of all, your video camera (so old school it’s embarrassing!). And just maybe not dealing with any camera equipment of any kind — thereby freeing yourself from concerns about flashes, where to post the footage, and how to tag your neighbor’s son — will force you, the parent, to be more present. By virtue of being present at the event, and not recording it, you’ll have the chance to experience this fleeting moment in the life of your child. (I don’t want to promise too much here, but you might even remember it, too.)

Sure, snap a photo or two. Just try to do it without blocking anyone else’s view of their kid, get it done fast, and then savor every second as you’re living it, in the realest time that there is. Because that whole thing about it going so fast? It’s a cliché because it’s true.

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