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That Viral Houston Daycare Sign Is Right. Parents, Get Off Your Phones


More than 30 years ago, Robert Fulghum published his runaway bestseller, the occasionally hokey but ultimately charming “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.” Written as a collection of essays, the book contained some simple yet valuable advice: “Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush.”

In 2017, thanks to a plucky Houston-area daycare and a viral Facebook post, the world has some updated words to live by, sprung from the lips of the preschool set: “Hey parents! Get off your freaking phones!”

I’m paraphrasing, but not by much. A child-care center in Hockley, Texas, exasperated by parents glued to their phones at pickup time, raised the following sign in January:

A parent at the school, Juliana Farris Mazurkewicz, posted a photo of the sign on Facebook—she thought it was “on point,” as she told ABC News—and the rest is history. At press time, the sign has more than million shares and 81,000 reactions. Here was mine:

In other words, I just plain loved that sign. But to my surprise, reactions to the Great Daycare Cellphone Scolding of 2017 were markedly mixed. “There’s a big divide in the comments,” Mazurkewicz said. “Half the people are saying it’s not the daycare’s business what paying customers do, and the other half are saying that it’s great they are looking after the children’s well-being.”

Many in the anti-sign contingent are disgruntled over what they see as sanctimonious shaming, fueled by both the posting’s message and its admittedly, ahem, direct tone. “I am appalled that a day care would post this,” one commenter noted. “I agree fully with the statement but abhor shaming.”

Others bemoaned the sign as a sinister symbol of the constant stream of judgment that today’s parents supposedly face. Others argued, on a more practical level, that a significant group of people absolutely had to take work calls during daycare pickup, and to suggest otherwise was a form of anti-careerist oppression.

Let’s Be Real. You’re Addicted

On this last line, I call shenanigans: For the most part, unless you are the president of the United States, the interim handler of the nuclear football, a hapless dictator who just learned about an incoming coup, or maybe Richard Branson on the exact day and hour of the Virgin Galactic Mission to Mars, it seems unlikely that you cannot get off your phone for five to ten minutes at daycare pickup, which occurs at a predictable time each day, and make eye contact with your child. There may be exceptions—a perfect storm of family and work emergencies, perhaps, or an incoming zombie apocalypse—but those should be few and far between.

Here’s the thing: The flabbergasted tone of the sign suggests that the problem was not a few harried parents making apologetic phone usage exceptions for emergencies or can’t-miss, do-or-die work calls, which are situations that deserve understanding and empathy. The tone of the sign indicates that large numbers of parents were idling about on their phones all the time. If you live in twenty-first-century America, and have taken a recent quick look around, you can instantly confirm this.

Go to the park, and you’ll see parents zoned to their phones, eyes glazed, ignoring their kids. Go to a restaurant, and you’ll see whole families tapping away on their iTools. I’ve seen parents on the phone at the aquarium, the amusement park, and at movies, while their kids either stare into space or tug at their hand. That daycare sign is right: It is appalling. It’s also sad.

Here’s a Great Idea to Help

I’m certainly not immune: all the time, I catch myself using my phone when I shouldn’t. In fact, if I weren’t such a minimalist in home décor, I would print out copies of the Great Daycare Cellphone Scolding of 2017 sign and hang them all over my house. That’s how much I loved it. But since we must suffer for good interior design, I came up with a better solution. Okay, fine. My kid actually did. (Maybe Fulghum, of “All I Really Need To Know in Kindergarten” fame, was right.)

“Grown-ups are on their phones all the time,” my eight-year-old recently told me, his tone offhand. It was a Saturday, and I was absentmindedly checking to see which strangers were yelling at me on Twitter or Facebook that day. I looked at him, slightly shamed—okay, very shamed—and agreed.

“You’re right,” I said. “It’s dumb.” So we came up with a deal. If I’m using the Internet or the phone during weekends or evenings—in other words, not during work hours—my kids are encouraged to ask me what I’m doing: “Is that for work or for something important?” If it’s not, I put down the phone, and that’s that. Shaming from the right people, you see, is sometimes a good thing.

In the meantime, the heroes at that Texas daycare have taken some of the criticism to heart. The message is the same, but sign is now amended a bit. There’s now a “please” at the end and, as is fitting for our digital age, a smile emoji. Perfection.