Smartphone users between 18- to 24-years-old check their devices 86 times per day and half of our teens say they are addicted to their smart phone. About 45% of 10–12-year-olds in the United States have a smartphone.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, 17% of 5- to10-year-olds, 23% of 11- to 13-year-olds, and 32% of 14- to 17-year-olds spent more than 4 hours a day on a screen device. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, those numbers have increased to 44%, 47% and 52%, respectively. (See Screen Time Statistics 2021: Your Smartphone is Hurting You and 40 Eye Catching Cell Phone Usage Statistics for more.)
You might ask, “So what?” Well…the more time our children spend engaged with a smartphone or other screen device, the less time they engage in imaginative play, other unstructured play, or face-to-face interactions. In addition, “smart phones are addictive,” they impair sleep, and they increase the risk for anxiety and depression in our children and teens. (For more on the risk of unbridled cell phone use, see Why Wait.)
The real question to ask is:” What can I do about it?” After all, smartphones are pervasive in our world and our children’s world. Somehow we have to take charge of our smartphone before they take charge of us. We need to model healthy “smartphone management” for our children and create an environment in which they can learn those “smart phone management” skills as well. Here are six tips to help you do that:
- Turn off the notifications. Your smartphone calls for your attention with every buzz, ding, and flash. By turning the notifications off, it will call less often. You’ll be less distracted and better able to connect with those around you. And, just to be clear, the world will survive without us responding to every buzz, ding, and flash.
- Turn it gray. The colors of the smartphone screen invite us to look at it as well. The little red dot screams for us to click and discover who texted, emailed, or left a message. Setting your screen to grayscale can help limit this call. Specifically, some studies suggest people are less drawn to and less distracted by the grayscale screen. Try it for a week and see what you discover. You might be pleasantly surprised.
- Enjoy a family “unplugged day.” Set aside one day a week (or at least one evening starting at 5pm and lasting until the next morning) as a time to unplug. Turn off all smart phones and other screens. While you have no technology to interfere, enjoy family time. Play a game. Have a picnic. Go for a hike. Enjoy some technology-free-family-fun. (Read Unplug for a Family Fun Night to learn more.)
- Enjoy some screen time together. Make some screen time a shared experience rather than allowing it all to remain an individual experience. Watch a movie together. Play a game together. Watch YouTube videos together. Doing so will help teach compromise and negotiation. It will also allow you the opportunity to have fun with your child as well as the opportunity to talk with them about messages communicated on-line.
- Encourage a tech-free knowledge search. You know, go old school. Determine to search for knowledge on one topic each week without using Google, Alexi, Siri, or other internet service. Instead, go to the library. Use a book or encyclopedia. Go to the museum, science center, or aviary to gain the information. Make it a family outing. Going old school in a search for knowledge is like a treasure hunt. Have fun with it.
- Finally, enjoy device free meals. Yes, put the smartphone aside while enjoying a family meal. Leave the phones in another room and commit to interacting with your family during mealtimes. Talk about the day. Talk about the food. Encourage one another. Compliment one another. Enjoy one another’s company. You will enjoy doing all this and more without the fear of an intrusion by way of your smartphone’s buzz, ding, or flash. Don’t worry, whoever calls, texts, messages, or continues a streak will still be there. You can enjoy the moment of face-to-face interaction with our family.
That’s six ways to take charge of your cell phone before it takes charge of you and teach your children to do the same. In full disclosure, I got these tips from the Wait Until 8th website under Best Practices. Check them out for at least 5 other tips you can use. Plus, they offer wonderful education, advice, and suggestions about managing smartphones in your family. A wonderful resource for you and your family.
I am always on the lookout for new “family fun ideas.” You can imagine, then, why I am so pleasantly surprised to discover 365 Days of Family Fun by Charlotte Hopkins. This gem of a book suggests a fun family activity for every day of the year…and tells you exactly how to make it happen. The first activity (January 1) involves the whole family in making an “Adventure Box” to fill up with memorabilia of the year’s fun (ticket stubs, menus, pictures, etc.). Then, as part of the final family fun day on December 31 you open the box and enjoy recalling the stories of fun you had throughout the year…and you’ll have more fun doing it! It’s true. From picnics to snowmen to puzzles to recipes you will have fun. Along the way you will learn fun facts, celebrate interesting days, and read great stories. You might just write a few of your own. All in all, this is a wonderful resource for any family seeking to celebrate and have fun together. Check it out on Amazon and start having some family fun today.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to promote happiness in my family and teach my children how to live happy lives (Family Fun Night). Researchers from the University of Zurich just added another tool to my Family Happiness Training Toolbox (Generous People Live Happier Lives). In this study, fifty people were given 25 Swiss Francs each week for four weeks. Half of them pledged to spend it on others and half pledged to spend it on themselves. According to Functional MRI’s, simply pledging generosity activated areas of the participants brains’ associated with altruistic behavior and areas associated with happiness. In other words, simply pledging to use the money generously increased the pledging person’s happiness. Over the course of the four week experiment, those who pledged to spend the money on others made more generous choices. They also showed an increase in self-reported happiness. Interestingly, generosity did not have to be extraordinary or exorbitant to increase happiness. Just a “little more generous” produced greater happiness.
Why not use the knowledge to promote happiness in your family? Just bring up the idea of doing something nice for someone when you meet with your family. Maybe you can bring it up while eating dinner or while driving home from an activity. The suggestion could be as simple as:
- Wouldn’t it be nice to give some cookies to your teacher next week?
- I hear Mr. Smith isn’t feeling well. How about we cut his grass this weekend?
- I have an extra $10 this week. If you could do something nice for someone with $10, what would you do and who would you do it for?
- Let’s write the church pianist a thank you note for playing this week. Which card do you think she’d like best…or would you rather we make the card?
You get the idea. Be creative. You could come up with the idea or ask your family to come up with an idea. After you have the idea, enlist your family’s help in getting it done. Then get out there and do it…. You will have done a nice thing and that will increase your family happiness.
One last caveat…. You might find your children really like this kind of activity. They may start coming up with all kinds of ideas to share generosity. When they do, seize the moment. Jump on board. Work with them to make it happen. When you do, do you know what you’re doing? You’re teaching your children how to create happiness in their lives…and that is a lesson worth teaching!
Ever had one of those days? I’m sure you have. You know the day I’m talking about. It starts off bad and goes downhill. You wake up grumpy and irritable. Everyone around you seems to do everything they can to make it worse—they move too slowly, they ask too many stupid questions, they smile too much, they’re just too cheery! Of course, there is one day you may find even worse (I know I do). That’s the day your spouse or teen is having one of those days and you have to put up with their bad mood! Not only do you end up on the receiving end of their grumpy irritation, but you suffer the pain of witnessing them suffer. What a day!!?
Well, I have good news. Research by Tamlin Conner at New Zealand’s University of Otago offers a solution (You can read more about the study in The Daily Activities That Promote An Upward Spiral of Flourishing). Even better, the solution can be fun for you and your whole family! What’s the solution? Here it is: Engage in creative activities like singing, songwriting, creative writing, knitting, crocheting, making new recipes, painting, graphic design, performance, or…you get the idea.
Tamlin Conner’s study demonstrated that creative activities lead to a boost in positive emotion the next day. Positive emotions included happiness, joy, enthusiasm, excitement, and pleasurable engagement. See the upward spiral? Creativity today leads to more positive emotions tomorrow. Those positive emotions contribute to more creativity which leads to more positive emotions…and so it goes in an upward spiral from crestfallen to cheery by way of creativity.
What if the whole family got involved in this upward spiral? What if you and your family made it a point to enjoy some simple creativity every day? Maybe you would tell stories or knit scarfs, cook a meal together or rewrite the words to a familiar melody. It really doesn’t matter. The activity could fit the mood and need of the day. But, it will enhance the chances of a more positive mood tomorrow…and, if you’re not careful, you might just find yourself enjoying today as a family too!
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!
When I was in my early teens I made a washtub bass out of a washtub and a broom. I thought it was cool…and it worked. My parents, on the other hand, were less impressed and rather upset that I drilled a hole in the bottom of their washtub and cut the bristles off their broom. They still “remind me” about this incident now and again. In college, my friend taught me how to make an instrument out of a straw, later named a “strawboe” in my family. I loved it; Pizza Hut, on the other hand, did not. Still, these musical escapades were fun and educational. In fact, I still enjoy exploring unusual ways to make music…and I’ve learned to include my family in this fun adventure. You, too, can have a fun family night making instruments at home for your own little “band.” Think about it. You can make percussion instruments of various sizes and types ranging from garbage can drums to coffee can drums to cup drums. (How Wee Learn shares how to make these drums and 39 other creative instruments) You can also add maracas and didgeridoos (click here for instructions) to the mix. Add a few melodic instruments into the mix with the “strawboe” (click here for instructions), the tube bapgipe (click here for instructions), the water glass xylophone (click here for instructions), and, for the extra adventurous, the carrot clarinet (click here for instructions). You can find many more musical instrument ideas on the internet. Check them out. Make all the instruments you want. Serenade one another as a family. You might even march in your own parade to share your musical prowess with your neighbors. No matter how you share your musical adventures, remember to have fun with your family on this instrumental family fun night.
It seems paradoxical, even counterintuitive but it’s true; happiness is fleeting when we pursue it. The more we try to make ourselves happy, the more it eludes us. Paradoxically, we find ourselves happy when we forget about ourselves and reach out to help another. In other words, to truly experience happiness a person has to plant seeds of service in the soil of kindness and fertilize it with generosity. Research even has a name for the good feelings that come from helping others. They call it a “helper’s high.” Those who do things for other people experience the euphoria of the “helper’s high” due to a release of endorphins. Helping others also increases a person’s sense of self-worth, which enhances happiness as well. So, to grow a happy family, sow seeds of kindness and plant starter plants of helpfulness, fertilize with generosity, and water it daily with polite hospitality. Still confused about how to grow happiness in your family by giving to others? Try these four ideas to get started.
- Model kindness within your family. Give your spouse and children words of kindness and encouragement. Words like “Thank you,” “Please,” “Can I help?” and “You look nice” will model kindness. Don’t stop with words alone; walk the talk. Practice some “mighty little deeds of kindness,” like holding doors open for one another, letting someone else manage the remote…you get the idea. This is the first step in producing a happy family filled with kindness. Researchers at the University of California in San Diego and Harvard observed that one act of kindness leads others to engage in kindness. Ultimately, this “tripled the value” of the first kind act as it spread from person to person. When you share kindness in your family, your spouse and children will follow your example. Your kindness and generosity will “cascade through your social network [family] to affect” the lives of everyone in your family and more! ( read more in Why This Beautiful Human Behaviour is Highly Infectious)
- Model kindness to those outside your family. You could start by trying an experiment researchers used in a study reported in How To Be Happy By Giving to Others: perform five random acts of kindness one day a week for six weeks. Have each family member assess their level of happiness at the start of this experiment. During the experiment, let each person record their acts of kindness just so you can keep track of all five each week. At the end of the experiment, assess your level of happiness again. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
- Volunteer as a family. Take the time as a family to volunteer with your church, a community activity, or an organization designed to help others (like Habitat for Humanity, a local animal shelter, or your local church).
- When you gather as a family for dinner or in the car to travel to an activity, ask your spouse and kids about any acts of kindness they carried out. As each person talks about their act of kindness, explore specifics about the reaction of the recipient of their kind act. Were they surprised? Did they smile? How did they respond? Did they say thank you? Breaking the larger goal of showing kindness into a concrete observable goal of making someone smile will increase the overall happiness of the giver (see How to be Happy by Giving to Others for more).
Follow these four tips and you will notice acts of kindness, of giving to others, increase; and, as they increase, family happiness will increase as well!
This family fun night is such a positive experience you might choose to make it a way of life in your family. I know several families who enjoyed this activity so much they decided to make it a regular part of their lives. And why not? It gave them a sense of accomplishment. It even enhanced each family member’s self-confidence and boosted their happiness. This family fun night also had a positive effect on everyone’s physical and emotional health. Over time, it improved the children’s social skills. Oh, and one more thing: it gave the whole family a greater sense of purpose and identity. Sound too good to be true? Well, you will have to try it to find out! Oh wait. I haven’t told you what this family fun night is… or how to have it. Sorry about that. Let me briefly explain this family fun night.
You can experience all these benefits and more by volunteering together as a family. Volunteering as a family creates a wonderful night of family joy. It’s true. You can volunteer to work with your church, your community, or another organization. You will have fun and experience all the benefits above. Whether you volunteer through an organization like Habitat for Humanity, your local humane society, a local nursing home, or your church you will finish your time of volunteering feeling good. Your family will grow more intimate, empathetic, and appreciative as you work together to help other people. Once again, I have to offer a word of caution. When you give it away for family fun you may find you enjoy it so much that it becomes a regular part of your family life. But then again, that’s the goal—to have fun as a family on a regular basis. Now get out there and give it away for some family fun.
PS–If you are not sure where to volunteer or how to begin, take a jaunt to Volunteer Match for some great ideas.
I wish I had done this family fun night when my daughters were in early elementary school. Actually, this family fun night will result in two family fun nights: one now and one in the future. On the first family fun night, gather your family together to create a family time capsule. Here are 7 suggestions for creating a family time capsule. As you proceed through the steps, have fun learning about one another and sharing the objects you choose to place in the time capsule. Talk about the object each person chooses to include in the time capsule and what makes that object important to them. Here are the steps.
- Get a water proof box to use as the time capsule.
- Have each family member write a letter to him or herself. In the letter, each person can explain what he/she enjoys doing and what he/she find most exciting and fun. Put the letter in an envelope and drop it in the time capsule.
- Take a photo of each family member to put in the time capsule. Take a family photo to put in the time capsule as well. And, don’t forget to include some photos of your pets; they are family, too.
- Let each family member pick an object (or some representation of an object) that has special meaning to him/her. Put at least one object in the time capsule for each person. This might include a stuffed animal, a matchbox car, a favorite book, a nick knack, etc. If someone does not want to part with their special object, take a picture of it to put in the time capsule.
- Add artwork, school reports, movie stubs, or other objects that say something about your family’s current activities, values, and priorities.
- Make a list of your family’s favorite activities and current “best friends.” Drop the list into your family time capsule.
- Pick a date (15 to 20 years into the future) to open the time capsule. You can choose a holiday (like New Year’s Eve), a birthday, or some random date to gather as a family. The purpose of this gathering will be to open the time capsule. Write the date on the time capsule and put it in a safe place.
You have just enjoyed the first of two family fun nights. As the day you chose to open the time capsule draws near, you have the opportunity for the second family fun night with the same time capsule. Print out invitations for each member your family reminding them of the upcoming “Time Capsule Opening.” When the “day of the opening” arrives, gather your family in one room and open the time capsule. Enjoy celebrating your family as you review the contents of the time capsule. You will have a wonderful time sharing family memories of the last 15-20 years. Who knows, you might even choose to create a new time capsule to open in 20 years with your grandchildren!
Would you like a great family activity filled with fun? One that gives you and your family lots of fresh air and a little fun exercise? An
activity that can help your family grow more intimate and your children more mature? An afternoon activity to bring a smile to everyone’s faces and give each person a sense of pride in accomplishment? Then go fly a kite. That’s right. Flying a kite does all that…and more. Just look at these benefits of flying kites with your family.
- Flying a kite is easy on the budget. Whether you purchase a kite or the materials to make one, flying a kite is an inexpensive activity. It also allows you to build family relationships while you look for a kite or build a kite. A family project like building a kite will always enhance family intimacy.
- Flying a kite gets the family outside. Breathe the fresh air. Soak up some vitamin D from the sunlight. Move around and enjoy a little exercise. Being outside brings peace and calm to many who struggle with anxiety as well.
- Flying a kite increases concentration. Visually following the kite increases your ability to focus. It also helps adults practice shifting their visual focusing between something near and something far away, a practice that can slow the progression of “old age sight.” In addition, everyone will focus on the here and now of family time as you fly a kite together.
- Flying a kite increases the opportunities for family interaction and socialization. You can talk to one another while flying kites.
- Flying a kite is fun. Everyone enjoys flying a kite. It adds to your family’s playfulness, creativity, and joy as you fly kites together. And, who doesn’t like to watch the pride and joy on the faces of their children holding the string of a dancing kite? (To read more about these and other benefits, check out Kite Flying for Health and Happiness or My Best Kite.com)
Whether you make your own kite or buy one from the store, flying kites is a great opportunity for family bonding and plain old-fashioned fun. What are you waiting for? Get out there. Go fly a kite!