“Bzzz. Bzzz.” Is it a text message? Another email? Perhaps someone just posted a new photo on Facebook? Whatever it might be, you know what you’re about to do. Without consciously thinking about it, you’re going to reach for your phone and check what it is – even if you’re at the dinner table with your family or at a work meeting. Let’s admit it, we are all guilty of doing this!
Smartphone addiction is a real thing. In fact, 77 percent of Americans go online on a daily basis. That figure includes 26 percent who go online almost constantly, and 43 percent who say they go online several times a day, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January 2018.
Our phones are a big part of our lives. Sometimes, it even feels like they’re an extension of our hand — placing us at the mercy of whomever calls, texts or tags us next. Those posts and messages, despite our best attempts, alter our mood and decisions.
What’s more concerning is the fact that kids are just as digitally connected, and are displaying a similar, sometimes more extreme, shift in behavior as a result. Recent studies show how the ability to search for anything at any time and the constant “digital” contact with the outside world affects our ability to delay gratification. We want what we want, and we want it now.
Findings show that people prefer immediate rewards even when the delayed rewards are considerably better. A study out of UCLA shows that kids who were deprived of screens for five days got much better at reading people’s emotions than kids who had constant screen time. Other studies also show the links between social media, depression and anxiety and declining communication skills and social development.
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So how can you help combat this? You need to encourage your kids to put their phone or tablet down and reroute their focus to the present moment. Here are some ways to do that:
- Carve tech-free time into the family schedule. Make devices (such as TVs, phones, computers, games or other electronics) off limits at specific times. Dinnertime and before bedtime are a good start, but additional breaks from technology each day is also ideal. You can also limit digital distractions by creating tech-free rooms in the house, such as the kitchen or living room. Designate a drawer, a shoebox or a shelf as the place where everyone puts their phones away for tech-free time.
- Set your goals. Are you trying to have more family time? Connect better with your children? Decrease the amount of time you’re on your screens? Whatever you’re trying to achieve, make it clear so everyone can participate and work towards the goal collaboratively and intentionally.
- Use tools for mindfulness. You can create cards with questions that will make your child think and initiate a conversation. For example, ask them about a time they had to handle a difficult situation and how they successfully overcame it. Your child can’t be present if they’re sitting on the other side of the table on their phone. When you’re talking, you’re learning about the other person and, even more importantly, gaining their trust. Trust is essential to a good relationship.
- Make things fun. Think of fun activities that can replace the time your kids spend on their phone. You can suggest going for ice cream after dinner or going out for a walk together. You can also ask them to share their ideas of what you can do together as a family!
- Think about non-verbal messages. Non-verbal signals, like using eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body language will help your child recognize emotions and understand the intent of a message. These non-verbal cues are lost when someone’s face is turned down to a screen.
Don’t forget that children look up to you. If you want them to be present, that means you also have to be present. Be the first one to take the step in exhibiting a behavior for them to follow. Put your phone down, set your goals clearly, think of mindful activities and make it fun!