We often talk about the struggles of learning to manage technology in our lives. We know technology has its usefulness, but we also know it can take over our lives and isolate us from our families and friends. We have talked about the importance of setting limits on technology use and, more important, developing the character necessary to manage technology in our lives effectively. All in all, it has become a complex issue in our time. With that in mind, I ran across an interesting video (12 minutes & 24 seconds long) in which one man, Joey Odom, describes how technology impacted him in his role as a father and a solution he created to change that impact.
One of my favorite quotes from the video is: “If we don’t do something, this generation of kids…will die with more of other people’s memories than memories they create on their own.” Let that sink in. A family that interacts with technology through various social media apps more than they interact with one another will have “more of other people’s [family] memories than memories they create on their own.” That is sad…and frightening. The mere thought of that makes me want to find a way to better manage the technology in my life so that it does not rob me of my family relationships and memories. Joey Odom offers a solution (an app named Aro). I’ve not tried it, so I don’t know how effective it is. I do, however, like the idea of creating an environment that makes person-to-person interactions more rewarding than the technology of gaming or social media. Truth be told, most people do find that person-to-person interactions are naturally more rewarding than technology. The goal is to create a home environment in which your family can experience the rewards of loving person-to-person interactions on a daily basis. How you establish that in your family depends on you and your family. Some possibilities include:
- Making dinner time a “technology-free zone.”
- Establish other “technology-free” periods of time each day, like after 8pm or before 9am. The times would depend on your family schedule.
- Taking technology vacations. These technology vacations can last a day, a weekend, a week, or even a month.
- Don’t automatically pull out your phone when you’re bored. Instead, let your mind wander, strike up a conversation, or engage in some creative task.
- Don’t use technology to occupy your children and “keep them out of your hair while you get things done.” Instead, involve your children in those tasks with you. Engage them in the process (even though it might take longer to get them done).
- Enjoy time spent playing simple family games, indoor or outdoor games.
- Cook together.
- Develop family past times like biking, hiking, singing, baking…you pick the hobby that fits your family best. As you enjoy the activity, converse and have fun.
- Remember, as a parent, you model the best way to utilize technology. So model the importance of person-to-person interaction over technology.
How you choose to keep technology from robbing you of precious family interactions and memories is up to you. But the best way to start is with yourself. Don’t expect your family to do what you don’t do. You model how to protect person-to-person interactions from the intrusion of technology. Begin today. Replace the overuse of technology with loving person-to-person interaction…and create beautiful family memories.
I’ve read many articles about the impact that smartphones and screentime have on our children and teens. However, they are not the only ones impacted by screentime. More and more, research suggests that screentime also impacts the quality of our marriages. In fact, 44% of married Americans under the age of 35 report their spouse is on the phone too much. This drops to 34% of married Americans between the ages of 35 and 55.
Perhaps more troubling, excessive phone usage interferes with the quality of a person’s marriage. One in five (21%) of married adults who believe their spouse is on their phone excessively report being unhappy with their marriage and having an increased worry of divorce. In addition, couples who report that screentime and phone usage pose a problem enjoy less sexual intimacy and fewer “date nights” compared to those couples who do not report a phone problem. (Statistics taken from More Scrolling, More Marital Problems.)
Overall, excessive phone use and screentime can rob you of a healthy, joyous marriage if you do not manage it wisely. Fortunately, you have the power to manage your screentime and its impact on your life. Consider the findings of a study from Swansea University. This study examined “the effects on physical health and psychological functioning of reducing social media usage by 15 minutes a day.” The participants were divided into three groups. One group reduced their social media usage by 15 minutes a day. The second group was asked to do something other than social media for 15 minutes a day. The third group simply continued social media usage as they normally would.
Ironically, the group asked to reduce social media by 15 minutes a day actually reduced their use by 40 minutes a day. The group asked to do something other than social media ended up increasing their social media usage by 25 minutes a day. The group asked to change nothing increased social media usage by 10 minutes a day.
More importantly, after three months those who reduced their social media usage exhibited a 15% improvement in immune functioning, a 50% improvement in sleep quality, and 30% fewer depressive symptoms. If reducing social media usage will impact an individual in these ways, imagine what it might do for your marriage. In fact, each of these improvements will impact marital quality in its own way through less irritability and more energy.
With all this in mind, here is a challenge (if you choose to accept it). Commit to reducing your social media usage by 15 minutes a day and use that time to connect with your spouse. Replace 15 minutes of social media usage with 15 minutes of conversation with your spouse, 15 minutes of snuggling with your spouse, or 15 minutes of holding hands with your spouse while you take a walk. Try it for the next month and discover a whole new level of intimacy in your marriage.
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.