Smartphones are endemic in our society today…and they impact our marriages and families. For example, we can “phub” our spouse and family with our smartphones, sometimes in very subtle ways. “Phubbing”—that is “snubbing” another person by focusing on our phone when in the midst of interacting with them. One survey found that 46% of the adult respondents reported experiencing phubbing from their spouse. I’m actually surprised it’s that low.
Phubbing can occur in more ways than one. Obviously, when your spouse or family member pulls out their cellphone to respond to a notification during your time together, you’ve been phubbed. Or, vice versa, when you pull out your smartphone to respond to that “important” email, you have just phubbed your family.
But there are more subtle ways of phubbing as well. For instance, one study had participants share a restaurant meal. Some shared a meal with their phones on the table and others shared a meal with no phone on the table. Those who had their phone on the table enjoyed the restaurant meal LESS. The phones on the table led to greater distraction and less enjoyment with friends or family. In other words, just having your phone visible is a subtle form of phubbing your family.
Another study allowed participants to sit behind a person in a video and put themselves in that person’s shoes. They could see the face of the person interacting with them in this digital format. The person who was interacting with them put their phone on the table. From there, they either ignored their phone, occasionally looked down and swiped, or picked it up and answered. The greater the intensity of phubbing, the more distance the participant reported. They reported they felt like they “didn’t belong,” like they weren’t important enough to attend to. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my spouse or family to feel that way. (Both studies are briefly described in Smartphones, Phubbing, and Relationship Satisfaction.)
So what do we do to protect our family from phubbing? Here are a couple of ideas.
- First, and foremost, model a “no-phubbing policy” by applying these ideas to yourself. Our children, in particular, learn more from our example than our teaching.
- When eating dinner, put the phones in the different room, away from the table. This will likely arouse some discomfort and desire to look at the phone at first, a “fear of missing out” (FOMO) on something important during the mealtime. But everyone will get used to setting the phone aside and enjoying one another’s company. After all, isn’t enjoying our family one of the most important things we don’t want to miss out on?
- When you go out to dinner, leave the phones in your car, your purse, or your pocket. Do not look at them while you are out. This may mean having conversations or playing simple games while waiting for your food. It may lead to greater intimacy as you gain knowledge about one another’s day, dreams, goals, etc., through conversation.
- If another family member picks up their phone in mid-conversation, stop talking until they reestablish eye contact. If they say you can continue while they “just answer this text,” politely tell them you’ll be glad to wait until they are finished and can fully attend to your interaction because they are important to you.
- Enjoy family “tech-free” times—an hour or two or three or even a full day together engaging in an activity with no cellphone interaction.
- When you feel bored, don’t pull out your phone and play a game. Instead, let your mind wander and daydream.
- Allow your family member time to respond when you call or text them. Allow for the possibility that they are busy, in the midst of some activity or interaction, and just cannot respond immediately. After all, you and you’re learning to manage your phone’s influence more effectively. This will apply when someone is out with friends as well.
In many ways, these ideas simply represent taking “microvacations” from your phone, but they cause me to reminisce. Remember the days before smartphones. People called and perhaps no one was in the home to answer. The caller simply left a message. We retrieved those messages at a later time. Everyone survived. Everyone enjoyed the day even though we might be “receiving an important message” at any moment. There was no expectation of an immediate response or a need to know immediately. We patiently waited and enjoyed the moment knowing the message would be there when we got to it. Perhaps we can bring some of that mentality (a mentality of patience and a priority that focused on the current face-to-face interaction) back into our families.