For all the talk and concern we hear about the amount of time kids spend staring at screens, parents are waking up to the hard realization that their own screen time may be an even bigger issue.
No parent wants to look back at their kids’ childhood and think, “I wish I’d spent less time on my phone.” Yet all too often, the carefully engineered bells and icons call our attention away from our families and over to texts, email, a news alert, or our various social media feeds. Each time, the message to our children is clear: “This is more important.”
So why don’t we just ignore our phones?
It’s clearly not just kids that can get addicted to these things. With every thumb up, every heart, every new message, comes a vague sense of validation—a recognition from someone’s digital self—that they see you and they like what you’ve posted. However fleeting this nanosecond of a sensation, there is a payoff that keeps us, perhaps subconsciously, wanting more. This phenomena, of course, exists by design and is precisely what the so-called “attention economy” relies upon. It’s why we’re embarrassed to admit that “just ignoring our phones” isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself increasingly annoyed when your children “interrupt” what you’re looking at on your phone, or perhaps you find yourself wanting to check out from the day-to-day with your family to go be on your phone. Maybe you find yourself looking at your phone during meals together.
The first step, as they say, is admitting there’s a problem. If you’d like to spend less time on your phone and more time with your family, here are some strategies to consider.
Assess the Big Picture
Think for a moment about how you’d like your little ones’ childhood to be. Then consider what you might regret if you don’t nip this phone problem in the bud. Can you imagine letting this silly device get in the way of the goals and dreams you have for your family? Do you ever want your children to be interpreting your phone use as “that’s more important than me?” Of course not. Recall this conversation with yourself when you find yourself slipping back into old habits.
Monitor Your Screen Time
Use your phone’s screen monitoring tools or a similar app of your choice and understand how much time you’re truly spending plugged in. It may be shocking at first, but you’ll have data that you can measure over time and see real improvement on going forward.
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. Charge your phone in another 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.
An example of a rule you might set up for yourself could be to not touch 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.
Declutter Your Screen
What are those apps that you keep going back to—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Netflix?
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? Delete apps and leave only what is essential.
Want to take it a step further? Delete almost everything besides messaging and the actual phone function, essentially turning your “smart” phone into a “dumb,” or “feature” phone.
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 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.
Keep at It
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.
Don’t let some of the best moments in life be lost on you because you were distracted by a back-lit rectangle. Keep at it.