As I walk into the grocery store with my daughter safely strapped into the cart, I can’t help but smile as she waves to every single person we pass in the parking lot. Her desire to socialize and greet everyone on the way into our routine grocery trip is genuine and sweet. My heart melts at how these greetings and a simple wave are the very beginning of what will one day turn into more advanced conversational skills.
I watch the individual she is waving to, and, more often than not, my heart sinks. The person she is waving to doesn’t notice that this tiny toddler is trying to say hello and flash them a smile. Why? Because they are too busy reading 140-word updates and notifying their social media friends that they are entering the grocery store. They didn’t even see my daughter frantically waving to them as if she was passing her long lost best friend. Not to mention that they are walking through a busy parking lot and should probably be slightly more aware of their surroundings. I mean, have you been in a Wegman’s parking lot on a Sunday?
We are all culprits, myself included, of using cell phones as our primary communication device, our connection to work, a GPS, and a memory book of our favorite photographs and videos. Our phones have become the go-to device for managing grocery lists, to-do lists, and wish lists. We use them as our instant catalog and purchasing device that magically ships anything we need to our doorstep within two days. It’s our radio, weather station, calculator, coupon generator, credit card, and our dinner reservation guru. At this rate, it won’t be long before we can eliminate all sources of in-person communication, because our pocket-sized device will do it all.
But have you thought about what these devices are doing to our everyday interactions and the basic skills we all learned as infants and toddlers?
Humor me and let’s think about extinction. No, I’m not talking about the extinction of dinosaurs. I’m talking about the extinction of behaviors. Here’s an example: If every time you answered your phone, no one spoke on the other end, you’d eventually stop answering your phone. The behavior of answering your phone would become extinct! Conversely, if the rules of this hypothetical example changed ever so slightly, and someone was occasionally on the other end, you would likely continue to answer your phone on the off chance that someone would be there.
Over time, if no one waves back, our children will learn that waving to someone else in the parking lot is nothing more than a waste of time. Fortunately, there are still a select few individuals who love to “ooh” and “ahh” over our little ones. When my daughter is lucky enough to pass one of these friendly adults, she giggles in delight and looks at me with eager eyes, as if she is so proud to have finally connected with someone. Oh, the simple pleasures of toddlerhood! To those kind and attentive people, I want to thank you for helping ensure that a quick wave, a tiny smile, a moment of eye contact, and the beginning of an essential conversational skill will remain on the endangered list and avoid total extinction, for now.
When I am out in the community, I vow to keep my eyes up and out of my phone and take notice of what is happening around me. After all, a wave and a smile might be saving one of the most basic conversational skills.