I was walking out of a store recently here in Southwest Florida and a mother with her two children were in front of me; a boy of around seven or eight and his younger sister, who really played no role in this exchange. We were all heading into the doorway and I was immediately behind them. The boy was playing on an iPad and looking down so naturally, he was distracted and falling behind his family and created a bit of a clog once he got to the door. I had to stop behind him and the mother immediately noticed. She looked at my apologetically; I was in no hurry, understand that kids are kids, and smiled patiently so she could address the situation. Which she did as follows:
Billy, stop looking at your game. You’re going to drop it. Wait to play until you’re in the car.
Of course, at hearing his name, (it’s not really his name), he was brought to attention and walked out of my way and obeyed his mother. He never knew I had been standing there. I was able to exit the store and go about my day. But the situation has continued to bother me. Why? It held me up for all of 10 seconds that I didn’t really need back, but I’d have gladly stood there for much longer if it meant that the mother here would have taken the opportunity to teach the real lesson that could have been passed along to Billy.
The mother chose to focus on the fact that Billy might break his iPad, not that he has a real, live person behind him whom he doesn’t notice he’s holding up because he has his face in a game. In this world of beeps and buzzes and high scores and instant gratification, our kids are being taught the value of iPads and Game Boys and smart phones, not human interaction and courtesy. Had Billy been focused on a cheap toy, or something that would not be damaged if it were dropped, would she have thought his manners were more important? Frankly, I’m inclined to think so, and if that’s the case, that puts the price of courtesy somewhere above a matchbox car and below an iPad. Good to know.
As my grandmother said when I repeated this story to her, everyday is full of teachable moments. I really hope that as my daughter grows up, I remember to teach her the most important lessons, such as in this case, to be cognizant of the people around us, instead of continuing to reinforce the importance of objects, specifically electronic gadgets, that has become so central to our society.