Why Your Family Needs “Phone Free” Time
Instantaneous communication is the new norm for the e-generation, but for families across the U.S. that new norm is replacing face-to-face real-time communication and family time.
Cell phones have morphed into another appendage; attached to hips, and unrelenting in their ubiquitous digital magnetism so that every call, every text must be answered now. Calls don’t wait, business goes on after hours thanks to the cell phone’s all-access pass and conversations with friends carry on seamlessly long after the school-day’s end.
And, of course, phones enable real-time pictures to be taken of perfectly coiffed dinners on tables across suburbia and beyond and then posted to social media beckoning for ‘likes’ to up the ante of the experience. Yet, beyond the likes, after the calls and texts, there remain conversations that just aren’t happening anymore.
In a world where communication is so easy, so simple, so seamless…the device has replaced the in-person. Communication in families has seemingly lost its face…and its face value.
While parents often complain that they feel disconnected from their child because of mobile devices, kids also are complaining that their parent’s cell phone is ruining many key moments to talk. Children feel slighted when parents engage with their phones during times when the attention should be directed to the child—like school events, dinner time, and a child’s game or dance practices.
Parents, however, often feel tied to their devices. Checking email to make sure work matters aren’t pressing after-hours or making calls to tie up any loose ends, the phone is the constant connection to a parent’s many responsibilities. Like kids and teens, phones also are serving parents as a relaxation zone. Many parents turn to Facebook and texts to ensure constant connection to their own peers.
When time becomes crunched and days run later at work, parents and kids replace important face-to-face talks with texts and messaging, which can quickly muddle meanings and the tone of conversations. Face-to-face family communication is irreplaceable as it allows for family members to really hear each other in conversation and visually gauge reactions. Real conversation allows families to hear the laughter, see the smiles and watch the crinkle of brows that can signal disgust or annoyance. The salient aspects of communication—body language and facial expressions—are missing in texts and other online communications, and meanings behind words quickly can become lost in translation.
Limiting phone time is essential for healthy family communication. For parents, limits need to be set for when it is appropriate to check work email or take calls. Dinner time, school-related events and meetings, a child’s sporting event or recital and sports/dance practices should be times when the phone takes a back seat to the child. Emergencies always pop up unexpectedly, so expectations may change. However, if the caller neglects to leave a message, then the importance was likely low.
Any time a child requests a chance to talk alone, the phone should be left aside, the ringer on silent. Children should always trust that a parent is there to listen and discuss important issues, concerns and fears as well as exciting accomplishments like a special piece of art or a well-composed assignment.
Children and teens also need enforced limits. Ensure and enforce a no-phone rule using the Teensafe app during any designated family times—dinner, vacations or sit-down moments to discuss major events. Set limits for how late phone calls should be accepted. Also enforce that homework time and reading time is the priority. Read with kids, and set the phone on silent. If they are old enough to read alone, then parents should grab a book and read alongside their children.
Both parents and their kids want to keep up with friends via social media, and times should be set when families veg out on devices. After practices wind down and after homework is complete, set aside an hour for the family to hang out on the couch with devices. Play games, check social media or just text friends.
Rules and enforced time limits that are not followed or respected should result in a phone time-out. Use the Teensafe app to disable your child’s smartphone. Technology can and should be taken away if it isn’t respect. Every member of the family should be held accountable for the rules. And parents shouldn’t hesitate to put themselves on a technology time-out.
Moderation is Key
Setting limits on the phone is a healthy way to preserve family bonds and foster good communication between children and parents. By moderating their own phone use, parents will show children and teens that the phone does not take precedence over face-to-face communication and that family time comes first.
Limiting cell phone use also comes with health benefits. Too much cell phone use has been linked to “cell phone elbow,” which is a bit like carpal tunnel syndrome. Reduced happiness and a lower GPA also has been reported from college students who are cell-phone dependent. Lower cell phone use and increased family time, however, leads to more happiness…and higher GPAs among college students.
Like all lessons in life, children look to parents for an example. A parent who cannot disconnect from the phone will teach children that the phone holds more importance than real face-to-face communication.
Unsure about how much time the family spends on the phone? For parents who want to monitor their family’s cell phone use can download Teensafe; with a new “manage” feature allowing parents to limit the amount of time their child can use their smartphone. The results might prove to be an eye-opening experience.