Louisiana elementary school teacher Jen Adams Beason recently asked her second grade class to write about an invention they wish had never been invented.
"Out of 21 students, four of them wrote about this topic," Beason related on Facebook. She added an emoji with a tear, along with the hashtags: #getoffyourphone and #listentoyourkids.
But it was a letter from one of those children, which Beason also posted, that touched a special nerve. The original Facebook letter has since been taken down, but local Arkansas television station THV11 captured it on Twitter--and it's very powerful:
The letter reads:
"If I had to tell you what invention I don't like I would say that I don't like the phone. I don't like the phone because my [parents are] on their phone every day. A phone is sometimes a really bad habet. [sic] I hate my mom's phone and I wish she never had one. That is a[n] invention that I don't like."
These sentiments should be a wake-up call to parents everywhere. As a father myself, I'm well aware of this competition for my attention--between a small device that is almost constantly with me, and my two precious children.
Maybe you can identify with this scene, which I described in my book EQ Applied:
One day, while sitting on a park bench soaking up the sun with my two little ones, my phone sounds a message alert. For the next few minutes, my attention shifts: I'm busy reading and responding to a work email. The children grow impatient, begging for me to rejoin the game. "Just a second," I say, my eyes fixated on the phone. The children are insistent, their volume increasing with each successive call: "Daddy... Daddy... Daddy... "
Suddenly, I snap. "I TOLD YOU TO WAIT A SECOND," I yell. For a brief moment, I've transformed from a gentle and peaceful father to something much different. My yell inspires fear and tears. I instantly put my phone away to console the children, regretting taking it out in the first place.
The next day, the episode repeats itself.
After many more similar episodes, I'd had enough. I felt guilty and wanted to make a change--so I tried to use a little emotional intelligence to figure out why I put myself through this horrible scenario again and again.
Upon reflection, I recognized that I get easily frustrated when trying to accomplish something on my phone when I should be paying attention to my kids. Because of this, I decided to only respond to messages at specific times. I silence message notifications so I'm not tempted to look at every alert. And when the time comes to check email, I prepare my children by telling them: "Daddy needs a few minutes to take care of something for work." Then, I make sure the children are occupied and supervised.
Since I made those changes some years ago, the results have been dramatic--but I'm far from perfect. It's a struggle to find balance. (My wife helps a lot.)
But when I make the effort, it reaps rich rewards--in the form of greater emotional connection with my wife and children. I'm more productive at work, and my focus has improved dramatically. Those simple changes have made me a better husband, father, and worker.
As technology continues to move forward, the competition for my attention as a father will continue to increase. But if I don't set the right example now, I'll surely lose when my children get older--because when they get their own phones, they're going to do whatever I taught them to do.
That's why I'm thankful to Ms. Adams-Beason for posting that letter, and for her timely reminders.
"Get off your phone."
"Listen to your kids."
I simply can't hear it enough.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.