Like many parents, we try to be hyper-aware of the amount of time our kids spend staring at a screen. It’s been shown that time with screens can affect a child’s attitude, socialization skills, and may even inhibit psychological development.
A lot of fuss has been made of kids spending too much time on devices, but I want to challenge us as parents to look at how much time we spend staring at phones while our kids want to spend time with us.
It’s our job to be aware of the role phones play in our lives. We need to recognize that our phones may be addictive, they affect our relationships, and we need to make rules for when and where phones are present in our lives.
Phones Can Be Addictive
Researchers have named the phenomenon FOMO (fear of missing out)—that itching feeling that we are missing something. It makes us pick up our phone to check emails, the news, Instagram, or any of a million other sites.
When we do pick up our phone, research shows that we experience a dopamine rush that feels like it satisfies that urge. Dopamine is the same thing that makes slot machines and alcohol addictive; each time we pick up our phones to check what’s going on, we may be feeding the addiction.
On top of this, many of the apps and all of social media have specifically designed their experience to hook you and make you want to check your feed. So, we need to be aware that a lot of things on our phones are designed to be addictive.
Phones Affect Our Relationships
Our relationship with our phones might be one of the biggest barriers to our relationship with our kids. We are non-verbally telling our kids, and those around us, that whatever is happening on our phones is more important than time with them.
Take a walk around any park and you will see tons of kids playing while Mom or Dad stare down at their phones (I should know, I’m often one of them). We worry about the kids, but the fact is we likely have more of a screen time problem than they do.
We spend so much of our time checking emails, social media, news, weather, etc. We have a world of information at our fingertips, but the danger is that we are missing what’s happening right in front of us.
We need to make rules as to where phones are and aren’t allowed in our lives.
I recommend that we all make family rules for where and when a phone should be present so we know that there are times in our lives when relationships have our undivided attention.
Below are some ideas that could help your family put down the phone and make time for each other:
1. Phones should never be present at the dinner table.
When we bring our phones to the table, it is an invitation for the rest of the world to interrupt one of the last places dedicated to family time.
2. Find family activities to which you can’t bring a phone (think of things that aren’t compatible with electronics).
One example, and one of my all-time favorite things to do, is to ride an inner tube down the Guadalupe River in Texas with family. Phones aren’t even an option, so the whole family spends the day floating and talking. Most pools, water sports, or water parks are a great fit for this. We also used to go hiking in the national forests of Colorado. There is no cell signal which takes care of most of the problem. In general, if you can find an activity where phones don’t work, it removes the distraction.
3. Leave the phone in the car at certain events.
This includes events such as movies, church, and other fun family outings. Just leave the phone in the car! You won’t have to think about it, and you won’t be tempted to scroll through your newsfeed when you could be spending quality time together.
I want to challenge us as parents to look at how much time we spend staring at phones while our kids want to spend time with us.
4. Designate a phone-free day.
Choose one day per week or month where you don’t carry a phone. Perhaps each Saturday you put the phone in the nightstand…and leave it there…all day. You will realize that if you go to the park, you are playing with your children while many other parents are looking at their phone.
5. Use “Do Not Disturb” mode during family activities.
Did you know that you can put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and still allow your “favorites” contacts to call in? This means only your parents, wife, kids, and closest friends can call you—the rest of the world can wait!
6. Download a distraction-blocking app.
There are distraction-blocking apps that allow you to block all apps that may take you away from the most important thing at the time. One app named Offtime even enables you to create settings custom to the event you are at so you can create a “family” mode on your phone to help balance your life.
7. Treat your phone like a swear jar.
Want to make it fun? Each time your kids catch you breaking one of the rules, you have to add $1 to the jar for taking the family out for ice cream. If the kids keep calling you out, you may end up adding money to the swear jar too!
Whatever you decide, I just want to encourage you (and me) to take some proactive steps toward taking control of how much you stare at a phone when you could be interacting with family.
Let’s not let our relationship with our phones negatively affect our relationship with our kids and those around us.
It’s okay for people not to be able to get a hold of us sometimes. It’s okay not to have a camera to capture every moment. It’s okay not to know what new breaking news came in within the last hour. It’s okay to just be present, person-to-person.
I’m not saying anything new, and you’ve likely heard it all a thousand times. My challenge is for you to now sit down with your family and have a serious conversation about the role your phone plays in your life. If you’re anything like me, it plays a bigger role than you may realize.
Want more ideas on how to have better quality time with your family?
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Looking for more tips to build healthy family relationships? We recommend this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Behind the Scenes of a Family Business With CreativeQT – 082!