I recently read a heart-wrenching story of a nine-year-old boy named Xiaozhi, from Central China. He tugged at the hearts of many when his essay describing his cry for attention from his phone-addict father, went viral. His essay was posted on Weibo on Jan 17 by his teacher at Luoyang International School in Henan province.
“Father, I want to tell you. Every time, I ask you to check my homework, you would just take one look and say, “Not bad, now go play.” Otherwise you would just give me a phone so I could play too.
You are like a vicious wolf that has starved for three days and three nights, eyeing that big chunk of fat meat. It is as though there is a vacuum cleaner inside the cellphone sucking you in.
Father, what I want is not a house full of snacks, the most high-end cellphone and certainly not high-end toys. What I want is only for you to put down your phone and play with me. That will be the happiest thing to happen to me in my whole life.
Father, as long as you put down the phone. I’m willing to trade my life for it. I love you, my father.”
On reading this, I was reminded of my own experience when I was interviewed by a TV reporter at MediaCorp. She asked me, “Why do shopping malls prefer to use children’s themes like Disneyland to attract customers?”
Without flinching, I told her, “It’s because toys have become surrogate parents for many children. Parents are too busy and hardly have time to be with their kids! So they buy the most expensive toys and latest gadgets to keep them occupied.’
The TV cameraman, who was filming me, immediately put down the camera and confided in me, “You are so right. I work from 11 am to 11 pm on weekdays. When I return home, my son is asleep. When I am awake, he has gone to school. The only time I have is on Saturday afternoon. I will bring him to the nearest shopping mall and buy him the latest toy. And that will be my parenting for that week.”
The smartphone has become a bane to many families. Look at what is happening at meal times today: Adults text for businesses. Teens are plugged into to their music or games. Even babies are given iPads so that parents can enjoy their meals undisturbed! The family is there but also not there!
Fortunately, Xiaozhi’s essay proved a turning-point in the father-son relationship. His father acknowledged that he had become so addicted to his smartphone that he did not only use it for work but also to play games for relaxation. Now, Xiaozhi’s father wants to spend more time to connect with his son, and sets aside weekends to spend more time with him.
At this Chinese New Year, I have made some fresh commitments. Hope you can make similar changes to strengthen your family reunion:
- I want to be ever-conscious that work will never finish until I am finished.
- I must set the example of ‘phone-free’ times or I cannot blame my children when they ignore me.
- I want to practice ‘the presence of people’ and learn to put my phone aside during meals and to be there for my ‘significant other’,especially my family. I recognize that with my adult children, it’s not when I want them to be there but when they want me to be there.
- I want to invest more in my marriage and family: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but he loses his soul and family?”