Hi there, mama, from my phone to yours.
I’m sure you don’t need me to recap how smartphones are both a blessing and a curse for parents, and how most of us run a daily balancing act between convenience/welcome distraction and the online rabbit holes of no return.
So I’ll cut to the chase. Here are three easy self-checks that have been helpful lately in setting boundaries on my phone use when I’m with my kids:
- If I tell my kids I’ll be five more minutes, I set a timer. An actual timer on the actual same phone. This helps me not drift into the wilderness of “internet time” (which I swear somehow goes twice as fast as non-online time), AND it helps my kids put more stock in what I say.
- Similarly, I often tell my kids what I’m doing. From their perspective, it looks like I could be doing anything on my phone (ie: animal videos, anyone?), but they can know I am actually accomplishing things from my to-do list so I can put it down later.
For instance: “I’m emailing your coach about practice, then I need to answer a text, and then I will watch you do your trampoline performance – the WHOLE thing.” And I don’t mind telling them I’m reading a news article or blog post and I will put the phone away when I’m done, because I think it’s a good thing for them to know their mom is informed and has different interests.
BUT this approach allows the weight of guilt (or truth? or both?) to pull me off if I am reading my third click-through celebrity gossip article, or knee-deep in some personal comparison on my neighbor’s Instagram account. If I can’t really justify it, honestly, it’s a good time for me to put the phone down anyway.
- This one is a kicker: I imagine the roles flipped – when my kid is a phone-toting teen and I’m trying to get her/his attention. This one stings a bit, partly because I know it’s reality in just a handful of years down the road. Basically, I’m modeling what I want them to do when they have a phone. If I am going to insist they put the phone down and look at me when I am talking, it’s not going to be effective if they know I haven’t done the same.
Other quick phone-use checks that work for my family: we have a no-phones-during-meals rule, no phones at bedtime, and I installed a free screen time tracker app (the one I use is called Moment) that tells me how many hours I spend on my phone each day – just that information alone is eye opening!
There are other Dallas Moms Blog posts here and here with great suggestions and perspective on the struggle between phone and family. I see ever-present technology as a modern-day element we’re figuring out how to wield – like water and fire, the right amount is constructive but too much is a nightmare.
My motivation for the effort is this: I want my kids to think back on their childhood and have memories of me smiling, or being silly, or tucking them in at night – not mostly of me looking down at my phone. Of course I know that image will be in there, too, but I want it to be one of many – and hopefully decently outnumbered by the ones where I am looking up and straight at those little faces.
Even if that means another trampoline performance.