I loved a recent NYT article where Dr Eric Topol described Americans as surgically connected to their phones.  He also described the great opportunity that resides within the phones for getting and providing better health care. These phones are a part of our future and can be exceptional partners in measuring and preserving our wellness. These mobile devices and apps will increasingly put the patient at the center of their own care. Dr Bryan Vartabedian summarized Dr Topol’s book and reminded us that, “medicine is increasingly anchored by the individual.” Thank goodness.

But the balance of how we value and use these astoundingly powerful pocket tools remains mysterious for some of us. There is a growing body of work about the addictive properties of smart cell phones. And although I hear a lot about how we should advise our children and teens to manage their digital device use, I don’t hear as much about how we as parents can do the same.

There are countless blogs and loud rants that cross my desk (phone, I mean) shouting for moms and dads to get off their phone when they are with their children. They look a lot like this:

Now Mr Palmer wasn’t yelling at me this morning (or maybe he was), rather he was responding to some data I shared about cell phone use: 1 and 3 adults say they frequently use their cell phones at the dinner table. I love family meals and detest the idea of a shifting vision for what they are. But the reality is this: these devices have an alluring, addictive capacity to distract us from what matters most. The beeps with arriving texts and emails provide exhilaration to connect or learn. The device can also connect us with great information, great data, great personal advice, and they can help us forge beautiful and meaningful relationships. Just think about what you can learn about your friends halfway across the US on Facebook.

There will be a day when my teen patients can text me private questions about their health. I know it. And I await the opportunity to help my patients in near real time by curating, responding, and connecting them with what science holds. Even without a crystal ball, I can tell you virtual care is in the future job description of every pediatrician.

It’s the balance and compartmentalization with our devices that remains elusive.

After I left my phone in a cab after a recent speaking gig, I was awakened to my own dependence: my boarding pass, my clock, my email, and my text message connection to my children and family were all riding around in a lone cab. There wasn’t a pay phone in site. And in the moments between loss and reunion with my beloved phone, I did sort of panic.

I don’t think I’m unusual. My relationship is becoming the norm for many American parents. It’s predicted that mobile devices will overtake the worldwide population by the end of this calendar year!

Did you know that a poll of 500 adults (read: this is a small sample size) found that 1 in 5 would rather lose a romantic partner than a cellphone? Or that 40% of iPhone users would ditch the toothbrush for a week compared to a requisite hiatus from their phone? Although I’m not surprised, I wonder, how does this affect parenting in this incredible time and land of opportunity that we call 2012.

There is great information to be shared and stored in our phones. The videos of our children, the audio recordings from the park, our virtual desk at work, information about health. And although I don’t have many answers, I do have a few observations I’ve gleened from working in this space and from having the fortune to care for families in clinic. I’ll share a few of them a couple weeks from now locally here in Seattle at the below lecture. Join me, in a seat or up on stage (!), to discuss what we know about finding balance and how we can use this emerging, incredible technology while enjoying our children. We can and must thrive while raising our kids, even with an iPhone tucked nicely in our pocket.