In recent years, more attention has been given to the growing problem of screen addiction. Much has been said about its effects on children.
A recent study showed the detrimental effects of parents’ overuse of digital devices on their children. According to an article published in Nature, researchers at the University of Michigan and Illinois State University found that children who are raised by parents who cannot put their phones down are likely to misbehave.
In the study, the children were more prone to sulking, whining, and throwing tantrums. The study also found that parents tended to alternate between websites, texts, emails, phone calls, and the children themselves—each getting short, small amounts of superficial attention.
Most parents want to do the very best they can for their children. They don’t want to fritter away the precious years of childhood scrolling down social media feeds and refreshing news reports in lieu of being there for their children. They certainly don’t want to look back after their children have grown and lament, “I wish I had spent less time on my phone.”
Yet, we know this is a problem. It’s difficult to resist checking our phones; the hardware and the content they deliver have all been carefully designed to keep the end user staying longer and continuously coming back for more.
So, rather than wallow in guilt—which many parents excel at—let’s get down to dropping that phone like the bad habit that it is.
Here are eight strategies to use your phone less and be more present with your family.
Define Your Why
Give some serious thought to this issue and its long-term consequences. In the future, will you feel a deep sense of regret for having wasted time on your phone? Is it important to you that your children feel heard, cared for, and loved? Is your phone use impeding that in any way?
Think through the big picture and solidify your commitment to making a change for the better. Know “why” you’re aiming to change your habits. When it gets tough—and it will—review your bigger “why.”
The Message It Sends to Children
What message does your persistent attention to your phone send to your children?
“Children learn primarily from behavioral observation,” explained Dustin Weissman, a clinical psychologist who specializes in internet addiction. He advises parents to put themselves in their children’s shoes and imagine “the person you care most about in this world wanting to look at a screen more than their loved one.” The message delivered is that “the screen is more important.”
What’s more, “they will not learn the prosocial behaviors required for success in life,” Weissman said.
Monitor Your Plugged-in Time
As awareness of this problem grows, so does the availability of tools to tackle it. External devices like Circle Home or a variety of screen-time trackers may be helpful in defining just how much time you’re actually spending “in the matrix.” Weissmann recommends Moment for iPhone or Quality Time for Android.
Just like stepping on the scale can give you a healthy dose of reality, so too can some cold hard data show you just how much of real life you’re missing out on.
Measure the problem and then take action.
Set Rules for Yourself
Unless you’re going cold turkey (those old flip phones are looking better and better each day) set parameters for your device usage.
Many people find it helpful to not use their phone in bed and to not look at their phone first thing in the morning.
If your phone is on your nightstand, and it’s the first thing you reach for in the morning (as opposed to say, your spouse) you may want to rethink that arrangement. You’re giving away your fresh mental energy to whatever your phone is delivering to your mind. News reports, overnight texts, email, social media feeds—they come at you at lightning speed and start you off down the digital rabbit hole before you even get out of bed.
Exercise, meditation, journaling, saying good morning to your family, and literally doing nothing are all infinitely better ways to spend your first waking moments.
Likewise, nighttime phone usage, even after the kiddos have gone to bed, can negatively impact your sleep and your mood. As Arianna Huffington says, “escort” your phone out of your room and don’t touch it for the rest of the night. Enjoy your life and your family right there in front of you. Allow your mind to rest and time to slow down.
“When it’s out of reach, the compulsion to check will not be as strong,” Weissmann said. “Nothing is more important than quality time with loved ones, especially children.”
An example of a rule you might set up for yourself could be to not use your phone until after noon each day. Likewise, perhaps you agree to plug it in away from your bedroom at 6 p.m. or before dinner each night.
Set the limits that work best for you and your family.
Clean Your Screen
What are those apps that you keep going back to—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Netflix? Perhaps you’re a Pinterest person?
What would happen if you deleted those apps from your phone? Would you be totally lost not knowing what was going on or would it feel a bit more peaceful?
Why not try and see?
Turn Your Smartphone Into a Dumb Phone
If you liked the last tip, perhaps you could take it a step further.
“You can turn the internet and apps off,” Weissmann said. “There are settings that you can use to make your smartphone a dumb phone with just calls and text, and emails if preferred.”
If the thought of this makes you feel a little queasy, perhaps that’s a sign you should consider it.
Enlist Your Family’s Help
Tackling this issue openly can be a great teaching opportunity for your children. Admit to your family that you’ve become a bit too attached to your digital device. Explain to your children why that’s a negative thing. Explain the steps you’re taking to alter your habits and ask for their help.
You’ll find motivation and accountability, and they’ll learn a positive lesson about the type of relationship they’ll later choose to have with technology.
If at First You Don’t Succeed
Try and try again.
It may surprise you how challenging it can be to create new habits around your digital devices. The addiction is real.
So, if you fall back into your old ways, don’t beat yourself up. Keep trying. Go back to reviewing your big-picture why and practicing better habits that work for you and your family.
Keep at it. Don’t let some of the best moments in life be lost on you because you were distracted by a back-lit rectangle.
If you’re reading this on one of those, may I suggest you shut it off, take a breath, look around you, and just be where you are for a moment? Then, maybe another moment more? And then: It’s that button right there, go ahead … turn it off.