Have you noticed that as soon as there is a question in casual conversation today, something like:
- I wonder what the weather is doing tomorrow?
- Does anyone know what happened in the hockey game last night?
- Oh, what’s the name of the singer in Coldplay, the one who….
- What is a philatelist, Dad? …
that someone will immediately pull out their phone or call Google or Siri to come up with the answer.
Not so long ago the conversation would have gravitated to discussing the question and perhaps even coming up with an answer. Well, maybe not for the weather but for many other things!
But today, we just can’t wait. We want the answer NOW.
And it’s denying children to develop the capacity to delay gratification and tolerate frustration.
The person who gets their phone out to find the answer inevitably ends up quickly checking on something else and before you know it, everyone else has their phone out too!
But it’s more than this.
It’s a complete conversation stopper.
And it’s denying children the capacity to develop the skills to hold a conversation in the real world.
After everyone has paused to listen to what Google or Siri have to say about a philatelist, you forget what you were talking about before! The flow of conversation has gone.
Talking about sabotaging the flow… did you know that each time we interrupt ourselves from what we are doing (conversation or work) to quickly search for something on Google, answer our phone, reply to a text, quickly check Instagram, or respond to an email that it takes us 15 – 20 minutes to get back in to what we were doing prior to being interrupted?
I’ll bet that you have already googled “philatelist”? (Was someone talking about stamp collecting?)!!
My husband and I were out recently with 8 other couples and the conversation started up around the subject of technology.
Someone shared that they were reading a book called “How To Break Up With Your Phone” by Catherine Price, and we all nervously chuckled. The title definitely struck a chord. However, as funny as the title is, it sparked a deeper intrigue in all of us. If we were unaware of how addicted we actually are to our phones, it soon became abundantly clear that we are all more addicted to our phones than we think.
Not only were we curious as to how we might break up with our phones but also how we were going to stop sleeping with them too!
Here’s an excerpt from a letter that the author of the book wrote to her phone. This forms the opening dialogue in the book:
I still remember the first time we met…
Then I held you in my hand, and things started moving fast. It wasn’t long before we were doing everything together: taking walks, having lunch with friends, going on vacations. At first, it seemed strange that you wanted to come to the bathroom, but today it’s just another formerly private moment for us to share.
We are inseparable now, you and I. You’re the last thing I touch before I go to bed and the first thing I reach for in the morning. You remember everything for me…
Thanks to you, I never need to worry about being alone. Any time I’m anxious or upset, you offer a game or newsfeed or viral panda video to distract me from my feelings.
These days, I can’t even remember the last time I was bored…
Kind of scary. Certainly cuts to the quick…
As our conversation progressed I was surprised to acknowledge that my husband and I were the only couple there who didn’t sleep with their phones (and no, we don’t have a landline phone line).
And we were also one of the few couples who still insist on all 5 of our phones going to a central charging station at night. Teenagers included. All 3 of them.
Do you sleep with your phone?
There are many things that worry me about the amount of time we are all attached to our phones, but three things are a major concern for me regarding this for children today:
- The lack of real person connection
- Our inability to be patient and wait for an answer
- The negative impact that our phones are having on our sleep patterns
Over the last few years, I’ve been soft with my message to parents on the subject of technology but I’m going to be bold and loud here:
- Kids do not feel “seen” while their parents are on their phones
- Kids do not feel “heard” while their parents are on their phones
- Kids coming second to their parent’s phones does not make them feel that they are important or matter
- Kids getting their worth from and having their identity tied up in the virtual world do not have any real sense of self-worth at all
- Kids who are chronically sleep-deprived can’t function at their potential
At the core of a child’s needs is to be seen and heard, to feel that they belong and matter, to feel that they are worthy, AND have adequate sleep (food, water, exercise, play…). Yes, the list is endless but the first 5 are absolutely paramount to them developing a healthy sense of self, and self-esteem, and worth.
Despite many parents today complaining about themselves not being seen and heard when they were a child, they are also not seeing or hearing their children but for different reasons.
So what do we do?
Here are three things you can start doing now that will have a huge impact on your lives:
PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN
We need to consciously put our phones down when we are interacting and engaging with our kiddos. We need to put our phones down and watch our children play. We need to put our phones down when we are watching family movies. We need to stare into our newborn’s eyes while we feed them. Our words and actions need to make our child feel that they mean more to us than our phones. We need to role model a healthy relationship with our own phones.
MAKE FAMILY DINNERS A PRIORITY
I believe that there has never been a more important time for family dinners. A time where the family has the opportunity to engage with each other face to face. For kids to learn to sit through a conversation that may or may not be of much interest to them. For them to be able to interact and converse face-to-face in the real world. And for a time where there are no digital interruptions at all.
STOP SLEEPING WITH YOUR PHONE
I strongly believe that our children can no longer afford to have their phones in their bedrooms. But if we hope to be able to “enforce” this, it has to start with us. We have to role model this to them. We have to stop sleeping with our phones.
It is well documented and researched now that the blue backlight on devices interferes with our ability to produce melatonin, a crucial hormone needed to settle us into a state of calm conducive to sleep. The bottom line is this: none of us are getting any form of restorative sleep within 1 – 2 hours of being on a device.
What does that mean? It means that you or your child might struggle to get to sleep within two hours of being on your phone so coming off the phone at 10 pm means poor sleep if any sleep till midnight.
Do you know that the average teenager is woken 3 – 4 times a night with incoming messages and Snapchats?
We know only too well how hard it is to hear our phone go “ting” and ignore it. Can you imagine how hard this is for your kids to ignore? There’s a F.O.M.O big time. Even if they tell you that they don’t respond to them, it’s almost impossible for them not to. I get that!
We cannot afford to sleep with our phones and we cannot let our children sleep with theirs.
If you have teenagers who are used to having their phones in their rooms, it will take much collaboration, persuasion, and nudging to get them to give them up. But hopefully, with some education, they will see that it makes no sense at all to deny themselves the very thing they need to thrive, flourish, learn, and grow….
If you have younger kids and are just starting out, my advice to you would be this:
- Hold out on giving them their own phones for as long as you possibly can
- Hold out on giving them access to any social media apps for as long as you possibly can
- Do not let them have their phones in their bedrooms. Period.
In previous years when I have written about technology, I have been much less direct with my message and what we need to do about the pervasiveness of the virtual world on our reality and the negative and deeply concerning effects of it on our health.
I don’t believe that there’s enough time left for the soft message now.
It’s not the phone that’s the problem, it’s our inability to detach from it that is and if we don’t start implementing some serious strategies for managing it all, it really will be too late.
If we don’t start to make some serious changes in managing the relationship we have with our phones, and role model this to our kids, we will not have kids who can function well in the real world. We will have kids who become so easily triggered and reactive to life because, quite simply, it is too slow for them to cope with. We will have a population of stressed-out youth whose self-esteem and self-worth is in the tank.
We will have kids who do not feel seen and heard or that they belong and matter.
My husband and I have found a way to make family meals an important part of our days. We do not allow phones to be at the table for any meal, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s not always easy but we do our absolute best to role model these behaviours to our kids in the hope that it helps them shape theirs. We are super aware of when we reach for our phones just because.
It takes a huge commitment to modify our behaviour in order to see our children thrive and to continuously work toward ensuring that we are connected to them and their deepest needs. But it is so worth it for us, and we believe, for them.
If we can do it, you can. The time is NOW.