3 things we miss when we don’t look up

A friend of mine recently had to have some pretty significant surgery. Fortunately he’s doing better now, but in preparation for the surgery, they hit one little hitch. They had trouble intubating him.

3 things we miss when we don't look up

In order to put a breathing tube in, medical staff have to bend the head back in an awkward angle. If the patient were standing up at the time, he or she would appear to be looking up.

Apparently, at some point during his life, my friend became unable to bend his head back much at all. He’s not quite sure how this happened or when he first noticed it. There was no injury or incident that led to it, that he knows of.

He simply lost the ability to look up.

Have we?

Much has been made over the past few years about the need to look up more and stop spending our lives looking down at our screens and ignoring the world around us.

As parents, this is definitely an area of concern. While it may be cliché to say that our children grow up faster than we realize, the real shame is if we miss it all because we were checking Facebook on our phones.

Even more, we need to be deliberate in encouraging and teaching our children to look up as well.

While we are all looking down, we inevitably miss out on a few things. Here’s three of them:

We miss out on the beauty that’s all around us

This can certainly include the natural world: A unique sunset (and they’re all unique), the rapidly changing fall colors, the precision of geese in a V-formation, and freshly fallen snow.

But we can also miss the man-made beauty in our environment, whether it’s the architecture of the Chicago skyline, the pattern created by brake lights on a busy interstate at night, or the unique style of every individual walking through the mall.

And of course, it’s not just limited to our sight. We experience our world through all our senses. Allowing ourselves to be engrossed by our screens, we become oblivious to the sound of crunching snow under our feet, a warm breeze in our face, someone’s smile, the magical aroma of a roast in the oven, or the sweet sound of an animated story being told to bathtub toys from the other side of the door.

We miss the dangers that may be near

A recent viral photo shows a man and boy at a major league baseball game. The frame that so captured social media attention showed the man’s outstretched arm and a flying baseball bat (deflected by said arm) heading directly for the bridge of the boy’s nose. Had the man’s reflexes been a little slower, it’s very clear to see that the trajectory of the baseball bat would’ve shattered the boy’s nose, and perhaps worse.

The most interesting part of the photograph for me and many others was the fact that the boy, during this whole dangerous incident, was looking down at his phone.

Many observations could be made about this behavior. (Do you know how much major league baseball tickets are? And you’re watching your phone?) The most significant issue is that he was oblivious to the danger, quite literally in front of his eyes.

This, of course, is not an isolated incident. A couple years ago, it seems there was a headline every day about somebody walking into an open manhole while looking down at their phone. Recently, there have been alarming statistics about the increase in kids and teens being struck by cars as they looked at their phones while crossing the street.

And all that in a society where our own personal awareness and diligence should be heightened. Instead, we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. Anything can happen around us, and we wouldn’t have a clue until it was too late.

Personal safety experts advocate what they call “situational awareness.” Think: Jason Bourne. To a large extent, we have lost this. And so have our kids.

And let’s not even get started on the whole issue of texting and driving.

We lose the personal connection

I love how much my smartphone helps me stay connected. I text my wife, my older son, and my friends often. I stay in the loop with family members on social media. I make occasional FaceTime calls, Skype calls, Google hangouts…all from my phone.

But none of it can replace the personal, tangible, interactive, intimate connection that comes with face-to-face conversation.

Talking in person, we hear the inflection and tone of the voice, see the tilt of the head, watch a smile grow or fade as we speak. In short, we are human with each other, and it teaches us how to ‘human’ better.

Teaching Kids (and Ourselves) to Look Up

Of course, the simplest and easiest way to get kids to stop looking at their screens is to simply remove the devices entirely, right?


Snatching them away without a good reason, though, is only going to engender bitterness and conflict.

Instead, we need to provide our kids and ourselves with something more compelling than the flat, tiny images in the palms of our hands.

Just a few ideas:

  1. Deliberately put them in beautiful places. Go to a preserve or a natural formation nearby, take an architectural tour, visit a (fun and interesting) museum, find a creek and get barefoot, or do an activity you’ve never tried.
  2. Create something. Whether it’s a model, puzzle, artwork, or some challenge you give them with their legos, whatever. It can even be tech-related, but let the focus be on building something, not just consuming.
  3. Have a photo contest. Can’t give up the devices entirely? Then take them with you and snap as many interesting photos as you can. Pick the best and put them all together in one place, when you get home. Have a judging contest. (Everyone eats ice cream afterwards, by the way; not just the winner.)
  4. On a trip, give them a physical map and teach them how to navigate. (Practical tip: make sure it is somewhere you already know where you are going. Just saying.)
  5. For your writers, give them a journal and a regular assignment. List three things you are thankful for today; list five things you saw today that were interesting and why; describe a person you saw today. Why did they catch your attention? Write an imaginative story about someone or someplace—works well if you are in one spot for a while, perhaps waiting.
  6. Create detective games for them where they “witness” something, then you ask them questions about the scene later. What color tie did the man have on? Did the parent or the child come in the door first? Was it bright or cloudy when it all happened?
  7. For older kids, watch the “situational awareness” scene from the Bourne Identity, where the character wonders how he can notice every detail around him (the weight of the bartender, the number of patrons, etc.) Try this the next time you all go somewhere.

These activities, and others I’m sure you can think of, serve to exercise our kids’ observational muscles. We all need a little more practice on how to interact with and appreciate the worlds beyond our screens.

FOMO is the “fear of missing out,” an element of tech addiction that creates anxiety. It’s that feeling that something might happen in social media, our texts, or our inbox…and we might miss it.

The irony is that, while we are frantically checking our screens to see what we “miss”, we fail to see what we are really missing.

It is our job, as parents, to help our kids see that.

What have you, as a parent, done to encourage your kids to “look up?” Add to this list by commenting below.


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