On March 8, or International Women’s Day, a 9-year-old boy in southeastern China tried his best to please his mother, only for his efforts to go unnoticed as she was glued to her smartphone all day.
The boy’s experiences came to light first as a school writing assignment, then on Chinese social media, where it went viral and spurred emotional outpours from thousands of commenters about the impacts that smartphones are having on society.
“Today is International Women’s Day,” the text reads, “so I’d like to thank the hard work my mom does every day and do something for her. First I told her a story, but mama didn’t seem to like it and kept looking at her phone. My mood worsened. Then I thought she might appreciate it better if I were to congratulate her.
“I congratulated my mother, but she still stared at her phone, which made me even sadder. So this doesn’t work either, I thought. I will just have to give her a back massage. So I pounded her back with my best efforts, but she was still looking at her phone without a single smile. I was really sad now, so I decided to wash her feet.
“Only when I washed her feet did she stop looking at her phone. I was a little happier and told her I was doing my best. I wanted to get some praise from her when I finished, but with a serious voice she told me, ‘It’s nice of you to wash my feet today, but you should’ve put more effort into it.’
“I looked at her blankly as she walked out of the room. ‘Hurry up and write your diary!’ she said, before closing the door. This is how I spent my sad International Women’s Day.”
The post on China’s Sina Weibo social media site got over 9 million page views in less than a day, according to a report by Taizhou Evening News in Zhejiang Province, where the boy and his family live.
With nearly one cellphone for each of its 1.3 billion people, China is just as susceptible to the downsides of the smartphone age as any Western nation.
“When I read my son’s diary, I looked at my husband and we broke out laughing, but I immediately felt ashamed,” said the child’s mother, surnamed Zhao, in an interview with Taizhou Evening News.
Mrs. Zhao admitted that she and her husband like to frequently play games or check social media on their phones, and that she sometimes gets impatient when her son asks her for help on his homework.
“I didn’t realize that my behavior was having such a big influence on my son’s growth,” Zhao said. She will have to put down the phone and spend more time with her son, she said.
Responding to the 9-year-old’s “cute but heart-rending” diary entry, as one online comment put it, Chinese social media media users commented about the impact of smartphone addiction on children and drew from their own experiences.
One summed up the story bleakly: “The kid feels bitter in his heart. He feels his parents like their phones more than they like him.”
Taizhou Evening News also interviewed students at the same school that Zhao’s son attends, and reported that 70 percent said their parents were also dependent on their devices.
“They look at their phones when eating, when I do homework, and even when lying in bed before going to sleep,” one student said. Seeing his parents playing on their phones gives him an incentive to finish his work quickly so he can play as well.
An angry first-grader said: “I think my mom likes her cellphone more than me and she pays more attention to it.” She said that sometimes her mother doesn’t even respond to her cries when looking at her phone.
“Once my niece told me that her dad holds a phone, her mom holds a phone, her aunt holds a phone, and no one would hold her,” a Chinese internet comment reads. “‘Am I or the phone more important?’ My niece asked. I was scared and put down my phone, but in the end, I ended up carrying her as she played with the phone.”
“The story of my life!” a young internet user said. “Ever since I helped my mom set up an Apple ID, it’s like she doesn’t want me anymore! She just spends the whole day playing games on her phone.”
“What kind of mother is she!” another user said. “But I suppose there are many more just like her.”
“My mom is the same,” said another. “I bathed her feet in ginseng water and massaged her acupuncture points, but she just kept looking at her friends’ post on Wechat.”
Not just children, but adults too can feel alienated by excessive phone use, as one personal anecdote details.
“I can really relate to the kid’s feelings. Once I was having a drink with my friend, and she seemed to be texting someone even as I was explaining my heartfelt feelings. That killed the mood instantly and we gradually grew further apart. Whenever I think of her expression when she’s texting away, I feel like I wasn’t actually accompanying her, but instead reduced to something like an icon on the phone. It’s pretty sad to think about.”
“I don’t understand,” another comment says. “Those parents who never seem to think that their behavior will have any big influence on their kids, haven’t you yourselves ever been children? Did you forget your delicate feelings as a child? I haven’t, anyway.”