Summer is approaching and many families have started planning their summer activities. Maybe you plan on taking a summer vacation with your family this year. I hope you so. But before you plan your summer vacation, I want to tell you about a study that may change how you “do vacation” this year. This study deals with communication skills. In particular, it explored 6th graders’ ability to read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others. The researchers divided a group of 6th graders into two groups. One group attended a 5-day, overnight nature camp with no TV, computers, or mobile phones. They had no digital screens for a full five days. Instead, they engaged in group outdoor activities (hiking, archery, learning survival skills) that promoted face-to-face interactions. The other group continued using screen time as usual. At the end of five days, the 6th graders who attended the 5-day nature camp without screens had improved their ability to understand nonverbal communications and to recognize emotions in others. The group that continued using social media stayed the same. It seems that practice leads to improvement…but so what? Who cares if our children learn to better read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others? Because these skills translate into healthier relationships, better employment, and greater success in life…and we all want that for our children.
What does this have to do with vacation? You can enhance your children’s social skills and increase their opportunities for healthier relationships, better employment, and greater life success by simply making your vacation free of TV’s, computers, and cellphones. Maybe you think it too much to eliminate them completely. Then you might consider at least cutting down screen time to a mere half-hour per day during vacation. I know it sounds crazy but contemplate the benefit of your children’s increased ability to understand nonverbal communications and emotional cues. Even more, think about the fun you’ll have interacting with one another, playing games, and sharing conversation. Imagine the things you will learn about one another, the experiences you will share, and the intimacy you will gain. It will be amazing…and the long-term benefit for your children’s communication immeasurable!
Let’s face it. Smartphones (and similar devices) have become integral to our lives. They are like a member of the family. Maybe even more like our right hand than our “right hand man” ever was. We not only call friends and families with our phones, we keep our schedules, monitor our health, watch our favorite programs, expand our knowledge, keep updated on the news, check our homework, play our games, and more with our cell phones. They have become an integral part of our lives. However, they have brought a potential problem as well. We have developed an attachment, a longing even, to the pings, chimes, & vibrations with which our phone calls out to us. Many of our teens and college age people have come to base their self-worth and perceived popularity by the number of “likes” and heart emoji’s given in response to their posts. In this way, the cell phone, our smartphones, have become dangerous. They have taken our moods and our time captive. How many of us have had that moment of disappointment when we don’t “get enough” likes for some post? We have traded in our face-to-face contact, rich with body language and voice inflection, for emoji’s that represent various emotions and comments. How many of us have felt that sudden surge of frustration and anger because my alert is going off again? The constant availability of the texting, snapchat, Instagram world begins to weigh on us, robbing us of the time needed for our bodies and minds to relax and “re-create” our inner peace. All of this combines to shape our moods and our self-concept. In fact, a study from San Francisco State University has shown that college “students who used their phones the most reported high levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed, and anxious” (Digital Addiction Increases Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression).
We need a plan to keep this new member of our family from completely taking over our family and isolating each member of the family. We need a creative plan, one we can stick to. With that in mind, I have gathered a few ideas.
Turn off as many “push notifications” as you can. We really don’t need “push notification” for the sales at the local stores. I really don’t need a “push notification” for the weather (I can look out the window and get similar info). Take an honest look at your “push notification” and turn off the ones you do not need.
Designate a social media time each day. Turn off the “push notifications” for all social media and get in the habit of responding to your social media accounts once or twice a day. Schedule time for it. For instance, schedule 30-45 minutes at eight a.m. and 30-45 minutes at 9:30 p.m. Limit your social media use to those scheduled times. The rest of the day you can focus on face-to-face, voice-to-voice contact. You can enjoy the moment and even take some picture to send during your scheduled social media time.
When you are out with friends or family, put the phones away…out of sight and out of earshot. Focus on the moment to moment interaction. One interesting variation on this involved the college students in the study noted above. When they went out for dinks, everyone put their cell phones in the center of the table. The first one to touch their phone paid for drinks. There’s motivation to put your attention in the current face-to-face interactions rather than the phone.
Recognize how the pings, sounds, and buzzes create a desire in us and call us to respond. Turn them off. Silence the phone, especially during social times.
Take a phone holiday. Announce on social media that you are taking a vacation from all social media. Put the phone away except for actual calls and spend a week seeking out face-to-face interactions. Studies have shown that taking a “holiday” from Facebook increases happiness. (Yep, Science Confirms that Quitting Facebook Makes People Happier.)
Make dinner time and family time a no cellphone time. Enjoy time with your family with no cell-phone interruptions.
When you are out for a walk or riding the bus, spend time without your headphones on and time not looking at your cell-phone. Instead, look around. Notice the colors. See the scenery. Observe people. You might even try starting up a simple conversation depending on the setting. Notice your world and interact with it.
The smartphone is here to stay. It can serve an excellent purpose and help in many ways…when we learn to manage it well. Let’s take the time to learn how to manage it and teach our families to do the same. We will all be the better for it!
A recent study published in the journal Emotion noted the impact of screen time (meaning the time on devices engaged in social media, texting, or playing games) on teen happiness. Just to let you know, getting rid of all social media, texting, and electronic game playing did NOT result in the greatest level of happiness! However, as engagement in social media, texting, and electronic game playing increased, so did teen levels of unhappiness. (See The Amount of Screen Time Linked to Unhappiness for more.) Wait. Don’t those two statements contradict one another? Not really. Let me explain.
Over one million teens in 8th, 10th, & 12th grades were surveyed about how they spent their time on their phones, tablets, and computers, how much time they engaged in face to face interactions, and their overall happiness. The results suggested that the more time over an hour that a teen spends in front of a screen engaged in social media, texting, and gaming, the less happy they were. Cutting out screen time altogether, however, seemed to coincide with less happiness as well. In moderation, teens who spent a little less than an hour a day on screen time and filled non-screen time with reading, sports, and face-to-face interactions were happiest.
The takeaway message seems pretty obvious. Allow your teen to enjoy some time on social media, texting their friends, and even gaming. But limit that time. Don’t let them get “sucked in” to the screen time activities. Instead, provide opportunities for your teens to engage in face-to-face interactions like sports, face-to-face games, and simple conversations. Encourage your teen to read. Help them find topics and books that will hold their attention and interest. And, of equal importance, model healthy use of electronic devices in your own life. Do this and you might just be surprised at how happiness increases as non-screen time activities increases as well.
Social skills are foundational to the human experience. They bring us into relationship with others. They give us the opportunity to experience community as well as the joy of intimacy. They enable us to communicate our needs and clarify our desires. They empower us to work together and accomplish greater things. They help us develop friendships. In other words, social skills serve as a foundation to our relationships, our values, and our growth. Let that foundation weaken and the whole house starts to crumble. I mean, the whole house starts to crumble. In fact, poor social skills contribute to poorer mental and physical health (the whole house). One researcher actually notes that poor social skills increase loneliness and chronic loneliness is “as serious of a risk [factor] as smoking, obesity, or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise (Read Poor Social Skills May be Harmful to Your Health for more). In brief, our children fair better physically and mentally when they have good social skills. Fortunately, social skills are learned over time and that learning begins in the family. Parents are their children’s first and most significant social skills coach, their friendship coach. How can a parent become a great friendship coach to their children? Here are 6 tips to help you get started.
Enjoy time with your children. One of the best ways to coach social skills is by modeling and practicing them yourself. Interact with your children and practice good social skills in the process. Treat them politely. Show them how friends treat one another. Share. Laugh. Play. Set boundaries. Express emotions. Negotiate disagreements. There is no better coach than one who can play the game well and engages his trainees in the process. Enjoy time with your children. (I love the time of Enjoying Your Child–Priceless!)
Talk about thoughts and feelings with your children. When you watch a movie, talk about the subtext of thoughts and feelings that motivate a character’s actions. When a friend interacts with your children in a way they don’t understand, talk about the subtext of thoughts or feelings that may contribute to that interaction. Explain how your own thoughts and feelings contribute to your actions. Label feelings you and your children experience. The broader a child’s emotional vocabulary, the more understanding they become…the better friend they become. (More tips @ Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions)
Allow for individual style. Not everyone is an extravert. Not everyone jumps into social settings. Some people are more introverted. Some slowly warm up to activities and interactions. Allow for those differences in style. Let the introvert enjoy interacting with small groups and the extrovert enjoy the loud social settings. Allow time for your children to slowly warm up to an activity if that is what they need. Allow your children to move quickly into an activity if they are comfortable doing so. Allow for those individual styles and don’t force your children into a style that does not fit their personality. (Read Honoring Variety)
Create opportunities for social interactions. When your children are young you do this by scheduling play dates. As your children get older, they can become involved in various groups like scouting, church youth groups, choirs, musical groups, sports’ teams, or volunteer groups. You might also consider family games nights with various board games that encourage social interactions. Invite other families over for game night. Play a few games together then let the children go off to play together while the adults chat for a time.
Turn off the technology and “go face-to-face.” Technology has a way of limiting social skills. Twitter does not allow children to learn the art of reading facial cues or hearing voice tones. Facebook does not let us see the ups & downs of life since people tend to post the happy days. “Face-to-face” interactions, on the other hand, teach us to understand facial expressions and interpret voice cues. They help us learn how and when to ask for clarifications that can deepen our understanding of one another. With this in mind, limit technology. Encourage face-to-face interactions. (More @ Welcome to the Dead Zone for more)
Give your children space. It may sound contradictory to give our children space, but they need time to practice the skills they are learning without our intervention. They need the opportunities to resolve conflicts, negotiate difference, and enjoy age expected interactions with peers. After all, practice makes perfect. So, take a breath, step back, and let them go. Give them space to practice on their own. (Good Parents Do Nothing!! tells more)
Well “Coach,” follow these tips and you are well on your way to “Coach of the Year.” And your children will develop the social skills necessary to navigate their world independently and successfully!
Let me just give you the quote right here, at the beginning of the blog. “The mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning, even though people feel they’re giving their full attention and focus to the task at hand.” This is the finding of a study out of the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas, Austin. In this study, participants were assigned to one of three groups while taking a series of tests geared to measure the brain’s ability to hold and process data. One group took the test with their cell phone turned off and left on their desk face down. The second group had their cell phone turned off and in their pocket or a personal bag. The third group had their cell phones turned off and in another room. Those participants who had their phones in another room did significantly better than those who had their cell phone on the desk and slightly better than those who had the cell phone in their pocket or bag. In other words, “the mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning….” The presence of our cell phone takes up our mental space and “dumbs us down.”
The process of pushing thoughts about who might call, who might text, when might it ring, or “I could look that up” takes up space in our brains and takes our attention and concentration from some other task. When we take our cell phone on a date night, it robs us of the mental space needed to have intimate conversation and enjoyment with our spouse. In other words, our cell phone robs our spouses of the full attention and intimate interaction they deserve. If we really want to have an intimate date with our spouses, leave the cell phone in the car…or at home. Give your spouse your full attention. Concentrate on intimate interactions with your spouse. Don’t let your cell phone rob you of a precious date!
Three Dog Night may have been right in 1968 when they sang: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Two can be as bad as one; it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Today though, we might need to modify the lyrics to: “Twitter is the loneliest application that you’ll ever do. Snapchat’s just as bad as well; it’s the loneliest app since a Pinterest pin.” I know, the lyrics need work; BUT, a sense of social isolation is moving toward epidemic levels among young adults and a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests social media is a contributing culprit (read the review in Medical News Today by clicking here).
Primack and a team of researchers administered questionnaires to 1,787 young adults between the ages of 19- and 32-years-old. The questionnaire asked about frequency and time spent on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest among others. The results suggest:
Those who used social media more than two hours a day were TWO TIMES more likely to feel socially isolated than those who used it less than half an hour a day.
Those who visit social media platforms 58 times a week or more had THREE TIMES the risk of feeling socially isolated as those who visited 9 times a week or less.
Why would social media use be associated with greater social isolation? Maybe time spent on social media left less time for actual face-to-face interactions. Or, maybe the self-portrayal people post on social media represents only a façade, an unrealistic ideal that contributes to feelings of jealousy and withdrawal stemming from thoughts like “Everyone seems happy but me. I’m just no fun to be around.” Or, perhaps it could be that seeing friends having fun increases feelings of exclusion and, as a result, social isolation stemming from thoughts like “No one wants me around anyway.”
Whatever the reason, I don’t want my spouse and children chained to a sense of loneliness and social isolation as they message on Facebook, send out a tweet, or post a pic on Instagram. I don’t want their loneliness to increase with every pin they peruse on Pinterest and “snapchat” they have. I want them to feel socially connected…and apparently too much social media interferes with social connection. So, here’s the plan:
Get involved in some community activities. Play sports. Join a club. Go to church. Enjoy a play. The more involved your family becomes in fun activities, the less likely they will desire to spend long periods of time on social media. After all, it’s hard to dribble a basketball or march in a parade while Snapchatting.
Establish tech-free times in your home. You could choose to make one night a week teach free or an hour a day tech free. Whatever you choose, make sure to engage one another during that time. Talk, share stories, tell jokes, discuss current events, go for a walk…anything you find fun, interactive, and relationship building (Enjoy “Steak” Your Claim on Family Dinner as you think about tech-free times in your home).
There’s the plan—cut down on social media and pump up the social connection. I’m starting this week. Will you join me?
I noticed it first at Kennywood, a local amusement park near my home. A young boy (I would guess 6- or 7-years-old) stood in line with his father while waiting for a ride. The boy was desperately trying to gain his father’s attention. He hung on his father’s arm, pulled his father’s shirt, called out “Dad,” bumped into his father’s leg…all to no avail. His father gave him no attention. Instead, his father focused on a cell phone. I made this observation several years ago. Since that time, I have watched the same scenario in different settings time and time again. Now a small study has pointed to the potentially detrimental effects of parental cell phone use around young children (read Plugged-in Parenting: How Parental Smartphone Use May Affect Kids). This study suggests that cell phones command our attention, even rob the attention we would otherwise give our children. Obviously, this will have detrimental effects on parents’ relationships with their children. Not surprisingly, this study suggests that the more parents use their cell phones around their young children:
The fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions the parents have with their children.
The more attention seeking their children becomes.
Parent-child conflicts increase.
Negative interactions increase…interactions like snapping at children.
The greater internal tension experienced by the parent.
What can you do to prevent the cell phone from robbing your attention from your children? Here are two tips to help.
Limit time on the cell phone for the whole family. Set up “unplugged times” for your family. For instance, establish meal times, bed times, fun times, and other family times as “phone-free, unplugged times.” Spend these family times talking about the day, sharing ideas and memories, laughing together, and having fun. You’ll be surprised at the positive effect this can have on your marriage (Read A 30-Day Marriage Challenge) and other family relationships.
Schedule times to check the news, texts, and your emails…times that do not interfere with family times. Take time to truly consider what notifications are absolutely necessary—those needed for true emergencies. News bulletins, Facebook notifications, and texts, for example, are not necessary on a moment by moment basis. Postpone accessing this type of information for a non-family time. Disconnect from the constant barrage of information to spend with your family. Turn off unnecessary notifications.
These are two simple tips you can follow to keep the cell phone from robbing your children of the attention they need from you! Disconnect from the cell phone, give your children the attention they need…and enjoy the way they grow!
Cell phones, computers, and other technology have many benefits when we carefully manage their use. However, technology devices seem to be taking over our lives. Check out these mobile device statistics I recently read (7 Important Reasons to Unplug):
• 84% of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their phone.
• Mobile device owners check their devices as often every 6.5 minutes…and 67% do so even if they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.
• 88% of US consumers use mobile devices as a second screen while watching TV.
• Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature!
• This simple pictorial, Your Brain on Screen Time, explains other cell phone statistics.
Technology has become a part of our world. It has crept into every moment of our life, even our sex lives (20% of 18-34-year-olds have admitted to using their phone during sex according to this CBS News report!).
This all sounds overwhelming to me. However, we have an amazing power…a power that allows us to control the impact of technology in our lives; and we possess this amazing power in a single finger. That’s right; we can use the power of a single finger to turn our cell phones off. I know it sounds silly, but it really is powerful. By turning our electric devices off, we can create technology dead zones, times in which all technology is off and we simply interact with one another. I would suggest creating several technological dead zones in your family life. For instance, make bedtime and the hour before bed time a technological dead zone, as well as dinner time. Agree that vacations and family outings will be technological dead zones and power down. When you commit to technological dead zones at strategic times in our family life, you and your family will experience several benefits.
You will experience greater stillness and solitude, a time to refresh and re-create a sense of peace. Your mind can rest for the moment in the quietness of nature. In so doing, you can experience the awe of nature–the beautiful colors, the singing of birds, the warmth of the sun, the softness of grass. And, you can share this enjoyment with your family.
• You will experience better communication within the family. You will learn to respond appropriately to subtle facial expressions and you can teach your children to do the same. You can learn how to make comments without using a litany of abbreviations like LOL, OMG, etc.
• You will experience the joy of the here and now with your family (Read about it here). Studies have shown that having a cell phone nearby raises our fear of missing out. We feel the need to answer the cell phone buzz and respond to notifications so we don’t miss out on some “important” message, news item, or one of our friends’ multiple posts about going shopping. As a result, we miss the joy of experiencing the present moment with our family. Power down. Enjoy the moment with those you love. Smell the roses with your family.
• You will increase a sense of appreciation and gratitude to share with your family. When we look at Facebook and other social media accounts, we see pictures posted of everyone’s special, happy moments. We might begin to question ourselves. We might feel jealous of their joy or just plain lonely. Turn off the social media and enjoy a dead zone. In the dead zone you can reset your focus to realize all the blessings you have. Share your gratitude and appreciation in person with your family.
• You and your family will sleep better. Having a technology dead zone before bed has been shown to improve sleep.
I invite you to enjoy the technology dead zone with your family—a place of peace, improved communication, increased gratitude and appreciation, better sleep, and the joyous experience of the present. Be careful though. You and your family may find you like the dead zone so much you never want to leave!
Have you seen the advertisement for the “Delmio Pepper Hacker”? I want to purchase one. Watch the 2-minute video advertisement and see if you might like one for your family as well.
You know, you can reclaim dinner time without the Delmio Pepper Hacker. You can establish dinner time as a tech-free time—no technology at the table or in the dining room. Make dinner time a family time, a time to focus on family conversation and interaction.
Beware. As you begin the process you may encounter some kick back. You may have noticed the initial reaction of going technology free in the video was not a happy scene. “Tablets and tantrums were thrown.” People got upset. They experienced withdrawal. They grew angry. They felt as though something was lost. We need to remember this crucial aspect in the process of reclaiming dinner from the oppression of technology. The initial reaction may not be one of immediate joy. In fact, it may be just the opposite. Stick to your guns. Pursue a technology free dinner table. After all, in spite of the initial negative reaction, “the world did not end!” Families soon came together at the table and began to interact. They learned to connect with one another. They began to have fun together. They talked. They laughed. They probably ate better and digested their food better as well. Why? Because “family dinner time was reclaimed;” and, “when families disconnect [from technology], they connect [with one another]!”
I enjoy technology as much as the next guy; but, sometimes technology can interfere with a good family fun night. So, unplug and enjoy your family. Turn off the computers, I-Pads, I-Phones, I-Pods (ai yai yai), X-Boxes, TV’s, and any other electronic distractions. Pull out some good old-fashioned board games and have some fun.
My friend discovered the joys of an Unplugged Family Fun Night by accident. His electricity went out in a storm. So, his family pulled out the candles and gathered in the living room. They ate some snacks, told some stories, played some games, laughed, and had fun. The next day their electricity was back on. But, when evening came, my friend’s young son said, “Aye, let’s turn off the lights and play games by candlelight again!” He had learned the joy of an Unplugged Family Fun Night.
You can enjoy an Unplugged Family Fun Night, too…even if the electricity doesn’t go out. Just turn off the electrical devices, bring out the snacks, and gather in one room to play some games. Depending on the ages and interests of your children, you can enjoy anything from Operation (one of my daughter’s favorites), Monopoly (a family stand-by), Apples to Apples (one of my other daughter’s favorites), Uno, Scattergories (I like to make up words in this game), or any other game your family might enjoy. The beauty of an Unplugged Family Fun Night is it can happen anytime! You don’t have to wait until the lights go out in your house. Just make it happen. Pull the switch, unplug, gather in the living room, and have some fun!