Tonawanda News

April 4, 2013

DUVALL: Your cellphone isn't a parenting device

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I heard a radio commercial that caught my attention the other day, and not for the right reasons.

A woman is talking in that hushed tone reserved for women admitting they’d double-dipped on dessert or some other “naughty” indulgence. Except it isn’t a commercial for chocolate or wine or lingerie. It’s a commercial for AT&T’s 4G cellphone service. Specifically it touts the carrier’s streaming video.

The woman says she’s enjoying the peace and quiet in a coffeeshop while her son — rather than running around like a maniac like normal — is “happily watching that movie about the fish for the 300th time.”

We have people who write columns about parenting for this paper. I am not one of those people. I’m not a parent and I don’t know the first thing about raising children or the challenge it presents. But it is a disturbing thought that the smart advertising execs are using the same women to voice over commercials for child-occupying pocket devices as sinfully delicious cheesecake.

They skipped all manner of pretense and outwardly marketed their cellphones as miracle devices that mesmerize your children — and mean you don’t have to actually do all that messy, frustrating, time-consuming parenting! Sit back and drink your coffee in peace. Just make sure you buy the unlimited data plan.

It is at this juncture I should point out I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth. I’m perpetually the guy in the coffeeshop trying to read a book but stuck next to this woman and her crummy kid who won’t stop screaming or kicking the back of my chair. If only we could find something to occupy those kids ... .

And lord knows the handful of times I’ve been responsible for babysitting a small child, “Finding Nemo” went in the DVD player faster than you can say “early bedtime.”

I’ve written many a tome about the perils of technology that amplifies meaningless communication and mutes genuine interaction. This is a new low. 

It still floors me that things like this need be said, but here it goes. A cellphone isn’t a parenting device. It’s a cellphone. You use it to call people, text people, check your email and social media. 

With the NHL trade deadline looming I’ll be carrying my charger around 24/7 to ensure I’m never without Twitter to find out if the Sabres have made a trade.

Other people just want to check Facebook incessantly. If that’s your thing, fine. It makes you kind of a loser in my book, but that’s your problem, not mine.

However it does become my problem — everyone’s problem — when that kid of yours who was brought up being rewarded with a toy for refusing to shut up and sit still grows into a semi-social brat whose me-me-me worldview can’t possibly comprehend why he shouldn’t send a text a minute while driving down the 290.

It becomes my problem when all these millennials grow up not knowing how to convey emotion without use of a colon and an open or closed parenthesis.

It becomes my problem when your kid knows everything about “Finding Nemo” except how to spell “finding.” Or “Nemo.”

And on that last point, stop blaming teachers because your kid is stupid. If you have a kid you have a considerably higher responsibility for how he or she turns out in life than the man or woman who tried in vain to get them to read a book or do long division or remember who won the Civil War.

So if you heard that insipid commercial and were in any way moved to buy something I hope you like your smart phone. It’ll probably be the last time your name and the word “smart” are in the same sentence for a while.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at