Can A Single Chair Define The Future of Parenting?

According to a recent study, a third of today’s parents think that playing with their children is boring. So boring, in fact, that many of us are succumbing to technology to occupy our time. The Tumblr Parents on Phones features dozens of moms and dads checking their phone during picnics, school programs – even birthday parties. But perhaps the most disconcerting illustration of our modern day neglect isn’t technology-related at all; it’s a chair.

South Korean designer Jaewook Kim recently created the Abooba Chair: a guilt-free way to supervise your children’s playtime while indulging in your own leisurely activities. Named after the Korean term “piggyback,” the chair has great intentions for facilitating playtime between a child and parent. With a jungle gym-inspired back, a parent can relax and let their energetic toddler climb to their heart’s content – all while checking their latest status updates, news feeds and content streams.

It’s not the chair’s fault (and certainly not the designer’s). Our increasingly digital world is calling for our undivided attention – even at the mercy of our children. And we’re all to blame, aren’t we? Writes clinical psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle in an interview with Washington Post, “These are not people who are dysfunctional, who are out of control, who are addicted – they’ve just kind of let things get away from us. It starts with the reality that people are expected to be online 24-7 – we’re on all the time for our jobs – and it ends in the fantasy of ‘there’s something new just around the corner, waiting in your in box.’ ”

The result: kids are familiarizing themselves with the back of our heads. And according to Patrick Kelly, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, it’s a growing problem. “Being able to look your child in the eye, to reflect what they’re thinking…and to really be there with them in a way you can’t be in a text, is incredibly valuable, because it teaches kids to reflect on their own mental state and shows they’re not alone in the world. Eye contact is the number-one sign that you’re relating to your kid.”

So are we relating to our kids? More than half of the children who participated in a recent study desired more quality time with their parents. And instead of engaging them, we’re simply distracting them with the same tools that are distracting us. According to Mashable, 7 in 10 kids use an iPad or other tablet device at home, the majority of children being under the age of twelve. Of course, removing the distraction of technology from our lives (both our own, and the lives of our children) is completely unrealistic. Yet we can make an effort to set limits and boundaries that will encourage tech-free time. And when the glare of our phones and tablets has dimmed, we can choose to be mindful in the presence of our kids. To be engaging, involved and interested.

Design doesn’t always dictate trends, but it does often respond to them. And in the case of the Abooba Chair, this is only the beginning. Sure, products are designed to make our lives easier, quicker, richer. Yet more recently, we’re snowballing into a somewhat disheartening trend: products that have been created to release the guilt of the society we’ve become.

There’s a book that mocks our inability to unplug. A GPS device to track your child’s activities. And in China, a giant inflatable ball deemed a groundbreaking innovation in “babysitting technology.” Collectively, they’re speaking volumes of today’s culture: we’re inventing technology to increase our addiction to technology.

Popular productivity chief Merlin Mann notes in an interview with NY Mag, “Where you allow your attention to go ultimately says more about you as a human being than anything that you put in your mission statement. It’s an indisputable receipt for your existence.”

It’s a receipt that we have paid, and are still paying, quite a lot for. Yet like the Abooba chair, we have a choice. We can continue to indulge in the fast-paced connectivity (but not connectedness) technology is offering us while ignoring our surroundings. Or we can turn off the phone, turn around and indulge in a rousing game of jungle gym with the kids we love.

Image Credits: Jaewook Kim

p.s. Just for fun: A biodegradable kid’s chair, an heirloom chair for future generations and the train of chairs.

  • I’ve thought about this quite a bit- I am not sure adults should, or are able, to play with kids for an extended period. Kids need to work out rules and problem solve among themselves without too much adult interference. But more importantly, the longer you play with a child, the less they are able to listen to you because they need to distinguish between friend and parent.

    We were having trouble transitioning from play friend to parent- as in “it is time to stop playing and take a bath, eat dinner, stop running in the street, etc.” So I’ve had to set some rules at home concerning what are mommy games and friend games. Pretend, dress-up, doll and all fantasy games are friend games. Board games, computer games, memory, art, etc. are mommy games. If she wants to play with mommy we can play a mommy game, but if she wants to play dollies, she needs to play with a friend or herself. Mommy will cheer on and clap for her performance, but I won’t be in the performance [dance parties are for everyone- we love a good dance party].
    I think that with a lot of newer parenting there is an expectation that parents are always supposed to be on the floor playing with their kids- fully engaged- but I don’t think that is healthy for either the parent or the kid.
    Great discussion.

      • Great article! I liked how the author talked about kids mirroring the adults “leisure” activities. I am guilty of spending too much time on my phone- esp. at the playground [which I firmly believe is KID-ONLY territory… grown up supervision but kid rules. How else are they going to learn to stay out of the hot lava??]. My daughter does notice that and wants to play on my phone all the time too. It’s not that the phone/ technology is a tool of neglect, but rather a bad example. Maybe I should bring a book to the playground next time instead of instagram? Cheers!

  • that tumblr of parents on the phone made me want to cry. surely there is a happy medium between letting kids learn to play on their own without hovering AND flat out ignoring for the sake of angry birds or email checking.

    sigh. must go read a book and play outside for awhile.

    • @Karen and Hayley – I agree. I think it’s about mindfulness, and even though Bee is only 6 months old, I’m already making an effort to model my behavior in a way that feels realistic, but that also sets a clear example of the balanced life I’d like to instill in her.

  • here’s to mindfulness and balance! (clink, clink)
    kids or no kids, that’s definitely a word i think we should remember when thinking about the way(s) technology has possibly distracted us from what’s right in front of us when it comes to our relationships with others.

    • @Karen – Great point! We all have relationships that take work/focus, regardless of whether or not we’re changing their diapers. :)

  • Erin, this article (and the one before it) are SO great. Well researched, thoughtful, insightful…I’m such a big fan of the new way you’re exploring topics on your blog! Being a parent in the 21st century IS hard. I like to think I do a pretty good job of limiting technology around Dean, and yet, every time I take a quick picture of him, its a dangerous step to “Well, I’ll just check my Facebook while I’m on here…” UGH.

    Also, this McSweeney’s post ( reminded me of this recent Tweet of yours: every time you check your phone in someone’s presence, you’re saying “this moment is less important to me than what is happening elsewhere.” — You must read it!

    • Ah, thanks for your sweet words, Gail – and OMG I just had a friend send me that article and it is HILARIOUS. And so very true. Thanks for the reminder! :)

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