As the holidays approach, I'm looking forward to connecting with friends and family at various gatherings and celebrations. Time off from school and work and travel to visit relatives are opportunities to be present with one another. Too often these days, though, I'm finding a common barrier getting between me and my family: our various screens and devices.
I know that many families grapple with the challenges presented by increasing amounts of screen time in all our lives. Technology has become, like it or not, a big part of not just entertainment, but education, and how we connect with folks from near and far. And yet experts warn us that too much screen time can be unhealthy for our children and problematic for our relationships. Our understanding of this issue continues to evolve—check out the latest and greatest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Screen time guidelines often tempt me to micromanage my children's screen time. While boundaries can be important, simply restricting something from kids (or anyone for that matter) may drive them to want more. Therefore, I am interested in exploring this topic from the perspective of modeling balance to my children.
A big part of my personal frustration with my phone and computer is that I often find myself using them as a quick fix to combat boredom, or even anxiety. We've all done it: the endless social media scroll, wherein you're not really connecting with your community so much as idly consuming bits of information without much thought. Too much of this behavior can make me feel the opposite of connected. That's not what I want for myself or my sons. And the new guidelines from the AAP have me inspired to think about how I'm role modeling my use of technology to my sons.
Here are some quick tips that I'm putting into practice. I've already noticed better connection with my family as a result. (Check out the AAP for more planning resources!)
Make your phone a phone again.
Our family, like many households, doesn't have a landline. But that doesn't mean my smart phone has to rule my life. I'm encouraging friends and family to call if they really need me and working to become less immediately responsive via text. This reduces the likelihood that I'm going to get sucked into checking e-mail or social media when I just picked up my phone to send a quick message. In addition, I deleted apps that I get mindlessly sucked into and demoted my web browser to the last page of my phone. I now use designated computer time to check my inbox and connect socially online, and mainly use my phone for calls and texts—how liberating!
Unplug while driving.
It goes without saying that looking at my phone in the car (even at stoplights) is unsafe. But I also find myself making unimportant phone calls while taking my kids to and fro. When I focus on driving, chatting with my kids, and enjoying music together, I'm role modeling good habits for them and taking another opportunity to unplug. Focus is an app geared toward screen-free driving that I'm enjoying.
Track your own time and practice what you preach.
I recently downloaded an app to track my own phone time. Moment allows me to set times when I cannot access the Internet (including social media!) and helps me retrain my digital habits with reminders. While there have been a couple of times I've felt deprived, for the most part I'm appreciating the helping hand to put down the phone and engage with the world around me. My husband and I also recently decided to ditch our phones at mealtime and when our kiddos ask us for one-on-one time.
Share your plan with your kids.
When I verbalize my goals to my children, I emphasize the importance of screen time balance. This sets the stage for them to make their own plans as they get older, and encourages them to be mindful about how and when they choose to use their devices.
Check in and adjust accordingly.
I have asked my kids and husband to give me feedback about my screen time. If they feel like I am focusing on my screen more than them I have encouraged them to let me know and to even share how it feels. Through this, I hope they learn how screen time focus affects other people and the ability to receive feedback and change behaviors.
I have noticed that my mindless screen time has become an ingrained habit. And, it hasn't been easy to cut back! It has taken effort, energy, and a plan. But, the improved quality connection I've experienced with my family motivates me to continue my commitment to a better screen time balance.
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.