Beautiful woman with surprised look listening very carefully for the Smartphone ping.
The “ting” of Smartphones take attention away from being present with others.

Yes, I admit. I have a digital addiction. My husband often gives me the side-eye as we enjoy a dinner out — and my smartphone is the third-wheel at the table. Recently I began turning the ringer off and putting the intruder into my purse. It works — out of sight, out of mind. Yet if I see my phone, or hear the familiar “ting”, I can’t resist checking it. Sound familiar?

Smartphones and Parental Concerns

Smartphone use among children is a typical concern of parents. Parents wonder how much is too much? At what age do they allow their children to use cell phones? How do they keep their kids safe when using devices? These are all legitmate and important questions.

Simon Sinek’s video, Here’s Why Social Media is Ruining Relationships, examines very consequential reasons to be concerned about (over)use of these external appendanges. Essentially, he warns his audience to consider what screen time is doing to the next generation, psychologically and within relationships. He questions how young people will learn to build relevant relationships when their consistent interconnection is with a small metal device.

He’s right.

Smartphones have become one of the most important technological advances we have seen in the last few years. It allows us to have access to information, watch entertaining videos, FaceTime loved ones who live oceans away, and communicate with anyone in our personal world at a seconds notice. Pretty awesome.

This technology has advanced so quickly that it is outpacing our ability to intelligently navigate this new world. Researchers continuously evaluate populations and the effect these little devices have on our psyche. Questions such as will brains be damaged? to will our kids know how to carry on a face-to-face conversation with other humans? are concerns for parents and professionals.

Three pairs of feet with Christmas socks in front of a cozy fire. They put their smartphones away
Put Smartphones away to enjoy time with your little ones. They are learning from your example.

Smartphones and Holiday Interaction

There are actionable steps parents can take to help bring our children out of their digital fog and into more frequent real-life engagement. This holiday season presents opportunities to teach our children the beauty of social interaction sans phone. How do we do this?

1) Model Appropriate Smartphone Behavior

What are your viewing habits when out with the family?

You are leading by example. If it’s okay for a parent to check the phone and send off a quick text while engaging in a family activity, then the child will pick up on that social norm. This is a social norm we want to turn into a social abnorm.

Devorah Heitner of Raising Digital Natives is a renown expert who assists parents as they navigate the digital world with their children. She states, “Even when our kids don’t seem like they are paying attention, they are taking their cues from us about how to be in the world. When we put our phones away when they talk with is, and don’t try to split our attention, they feel heard and respected.” Says Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World.

Healthy relationships are all about being present in one another’s company; about being seen, heard, and respected. So put down that phone and allow your children to be in the moment with you, especially during the holidays.

2) New Social Conventions and Smartphone Use

Did you know that the  average smartphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day?

We have become so accustomed to our friends and family pulling out their phones and making a ‘quick check’ to see if someone (much more) important (than you) has texted them. Or the friend that interrupts your conversation to answer their phone to tell the caller that they are unable to talk? How about just don’t answer the phone — like in the olden days. You know, about ten years ago. If it’s that important, they will call back or leave a message.

I have an understanding with my family members that if I don’t answer I’ll call back when I can. It’s super easy to communicate that plan — you just tell them. Yes, there are exceptions: family illness, a child who may need a ride somewhere, or perhaps a person is on-call for work. I get that. Otherwise, tell your family members in advance you will be out and to call someone else if they need something. Think of the freedom that gives you!

Three young adults looking at digital media rather than interacting.
Smartphones take precious time away from the people you care about.

3) No more Smartphone Phubbing

Phubbing is the inconsiderate act of ignoring the person you are with to tend to the conversation on your text thread. You are snubbing them with your phone. And no one likes to be snubbed, just ask Hollywood actors not invited to the Oscars. How do you feel when you carve out precious time to spend with a friend and they continually text and look at their phone? How you feel being phubbed? A little dismissed? Unimportant? Hurt? Frustrated? Consider how your friends and family must feel when you do the same. (Come on, admit it. We’re all guilty of it.)

My daughter shared a fun way for friends to avoid this annoyance. Everyone places their phone in the middle of the table upon meeting. The first person to grab their phone is responsible for the tab. Try this with your friends. They may experience some temporary withdrawl symptoms, such as staring longingly and lovingly at their phone, but I assure you, everyone will be ok.

4) Set limits on your child’s usage

Set limits on screen time, especially for the younger kids. At bedtime, you merely take their phone away. There is no one in the world who will need to get a hold of your child in the middle of the night, despite their argument to the contrary. Make it a family habit. Perhaps have a phone basket that everyone throws in when they head to bed. I suggest you keep this basket in a safe place, like your bedroom, just in case a child decides they want to sneak their phone back. If your kids see you making this part of your nightly routine, they will normalize this into their own routine.

For older kids, get them in on the conversation and decision-making. Answer the questions and comments that will likely come up: That’s not fair! I neeeeeed my phone! I’m doing homework! I’m not using it at night, I swear! Discuss the reasons you feel the phone needs to be removed from their room at night, such as phone use can cause teens to lose precious sleep at night which can affect their learning, decision-making skills, and psychological health.

Humans need to recharge their batteries just as electronic devices do. The best way to do that is create a relaxing sleeping environment — sans phone.

During the day, set parameters outlining how much time your kids can spend gazing into the screen. When time’s up, the phone retires to the bedtime basket for the night.

One Mom’s Effort to Curb Smartphone Use

Lisa Downing of Spokane, WA is the mother of two boys, ages 15 and 12. She is a busy mom who also has her own business, Artistry in Life, so policing digital devices while working can be challenging. Lisa states, “We as parents need to do more to keep our kids off electronics 24/7. This is a continuing discussion at our house. It’s up to me to teach my boys how to use electronics in moderation and I am in no way perfect at this, but I keep trying. There is monitoring software on my boys phones, at 8 p.m. the phones go in a basket upstairs until morning, after an hour or so on the xBox it’s time to go outside and do something physical, turn your face toward the sun or the snow, whatever is seasonly appropriate, and spend time each day reading a real live book, not on your iPad or Kindle.”

Ah, yes. A real book. A woman after my own heart.

Family enjoying dinner together without smartphones
Enjoy dinnertime uninterrupted by smartphones.

5) Restaurant Rules and Smartphone Use

I encourage parents to make time for a date night once a week, without kids. Children love to see their parents happy and in love. And the kids enjoy a babysitter who lets them stay up a little longer than allowed. A win for everyone.

Family date night is also necessary, and during the holidays this occurs more frequently than usual. If your family chooses to go to a restaurant together, no one should be allowed to have their mobile devices out, even if the kids are starting to annoy (yes, it happens). Frankly, kids get annoyed with parents when parents use mobile devices. This is family conversation time a time to build bonds, share ideas, and experience the beauty of family relationships.

These social family outings also help your child cognitively. Have a few questions on hand that each family member can answer to inspire thoughtful conversation. These experiences will not only teach them restaurant etiquette, it will provide a foundation for respectful conversation down the road with family, friends, and romantic interests. If our kids do not learn from parents how to carry on a polite conversation, where will they learn this necessary social skill?

Hot cocoa, Christmas cookies, and Christmas lights - and no smartphone
Enjoy your time with loved ones this holiday season making memories not staring at the Smartphone

6) Holiday Time and Smartphone Use

The holidays are the most socially-packed experiences of the year with endless gatherings of friends and family, often including our children. As joyous as Hallmark movies would lead us to believe, the holidays are often filled with busyness and stress. Mobile devices help us organize our tasks, communicate our plans, and catch-up with loved ones. I don’t know what I would do without mine.

Yet the holiday season is also the time to put your phone away when appropriate. Designate your home as a phone-free zone when entertaining. Perhaps make a game of it: Anyone caught texting must put their name in a jar. The person with the most names in the jar gets some sort of prize. Perhaps it can be a repurposed fake or outmoded phone mounted like a trophy. The point isn’t to shame anyone, just build awareness and have a few laughs. Additionally, plan group games and activities which will not only entertain, but distract from the need to use a phone. Our family is decorating ugly sweater cookies one afternoon.

Perhaps children across the country will find books under their trees rather than digital devices.

7) Smartphone Use: It’s Not All Bad

We can teach our kids how to balance digital life with real life.

Modern technology allows families to gather together in unconventional ways. My loved ones live in every corner of our country so it is impossible for us to all get together. However, smartphones and other digital devices allow us to communicate (almost) as if we are in the same room. One year my daughter was unable to join us for Christmas due to work responsiblities. We set up our laptaps in our living rooms and as a divided family we were able to open gifts together via Skype. We even took a family portrait with her smiling face framed by the outline of the computer screen. It sure makes for a fun memory now.

A final thought…

Jill Salzman is the mother of two daughters and the energetic founder of The Founding Moms. She incorporates digital tools into her work every day and has a very optimistic outlook on smartphone and digital media (over)use. Jill wonders, “Perhaps our kids will reject it and be better than us? Or, perhaps we are all worried the way people were when the TV first came out (it’ll ruin us, etc.) and it may facilitate bringing the next generation together globally. Who knows. Only time will tell, right?”

Ah, yes. Bringing people together globally. Now, that is a beautiful thought on this holiday season.

Put your phone down, engage with your friends and family, and live in the moment. These are the most precious gifts we have: family, friends, and cherished moments in life.

Happy Holidays to all!

White candle burning in front of red Christmas berries and pine cone - no Smartphone.
Smartphones aren’t all bad – they can bring loved ones who live far away together for the holidays. Happy Holidays!

(Photos courtesy Adode Stock)