Happy Friday everyone! In our house this is the start of a four day weekend! And I am so excited. Our actual weekends are so busy – I really hate the word “busy,” but there is no denying that our weekends are jam-packed with activities. Therefore, I super excited to have an extra two days free this weekend to just relax and enjoy being together as a family.
And since it’s a long weekend, I think this is the perfect time to initiate my Device Detox plan.
Let me back up a bit. The other day I was scrolling through my news feed I saw on article about “Unplugging for the Weekend,” which reminded me about a segment I saw on one of the morning shows a few weeks back heralding “Device-Free Dinners.” I did a quick Internet search and found the clip I was looking for on the TODAY show website. The reporter stated that: “Some experts believe that technology has created a culture of obsession and addiction”*** and so the TODAY show partnered with Common Sense Media to launch “Device-Free Dinners” in an effort to break the pervasive screen-habit. You can watch a clip of the segment here. The recommendation is that all family’s sit down and eat dinner together without the presence of any screens – i.e.: phones, tablets, televisions, etc…. The story goes on to say the parents and children each spend more than 9 hours with technology every day and the dinner hour doesn’t need to be one of them.¹ This really got me thinking – my family does not have dinner together on a regular basis (and I honestly have no idea how we’d make that happen – with the length of our school day and our activities, we sit down to dinner together only about twice a week), although I definitely believe that when we do sit down together the devices should be left behind. But dinner hour aside, I believe, strongly, that we need to make a concerted effort to disconnect with our devices and connect with each other more throughout the day.
Just this morning my husband and I were lamenting over our oldest son’s obsession with his phone. He is fourteen and recently changed schools. He now attends 8th grade at the local public high school and since he made that transition his entire personality has changed. I know that this is perfectly normal and that the teen years are a time for experimentation and self-discovery; but, like any first-time mother of a teen I am constantly worried about his changing behaviors, including his obsessive over-use of the phone.
Less than six months ago I was half-lamenting the fact that I couldn’t get in touch with him because he often left his phone at home when he went places. While it frustrated me that the expensive device we purchased to keep him safe was not being properly utilized, and that I couldn’t contact him when I needed to, I was also grateful that he wasn’t [yet] so attached to the phone that he had to have it beside him at all times.
Now, I never have to worry about getting in touch with him. The phone is almost always in his hand – or at least within arms reach. He texts me from school, from the bus, from the tennis court and from our basement. He is on the phone as soon as he comes down for breakfast until he goes to bed at night. The phone is often perched on his knee so he can surreptitiously send and receive messages while he eats dinner. And when I direct him to put it away I get an eye-roll and a sigh. I recognize that this is how kids communicate today – even, strangely enough, when they are in the same room?!?; and, I am trying to be accepting of that. But I know it’s not healthy to spend that much time on the phone. And I miss the ability to engage in meaningful conversation with him.
Still, I have been reluctant to call him on this behavior because I know that my husband and I are not setting a good example. When my husband first got his iPhone, many, many moons ago, the two of them were inseparable. My children grew up watching their father read emails, take phone calls and check websites from his phone during breakfast, dinner, game night, baseball games and everywhere in between. Whether we were eating at home or at a restaurant the phone was a constant presence at our dinner table. Finally, I called him on it and he made an effort to put it away, sometimes, but it has definitely been making a more regular appearance again lately. There is no place that is sacred, where we, his family, deserve his full attention. The phone is always there to pull him away.
And I am just as guilty of spending way too much time on my phone. Not during the dinner hour – I rarely bring my phone to the table, but pretty much every other time during the day. I often use the excuse that I am working – and my work does require me to use Facebook and Instagram – or that “I just have to do this one [more] post.” There are several problems with this statement: first, it suggests that I am always available for work; second, it sends a message to my kids that they are not as important as my “work” or whatever I am doing on my phone; third, no one post is ever going to make or break my career – social media is just NOT that important; and fourth, one post is NEVER just one post – once that phone is in my hand I know I will be checking in with at least 3 or 4 different apps, and what was only going to take a minute, often lasts for thirty minutes or more. What a ridiculous waste of time! Don’t even get me started on all the things I could be doing if I’d just leave the phone in my purse.
But, as I reflect on my own behaviors the one I feel most guilty about is not giving my oldest son my full attention when he comes home from school. Last year I picked all of my kids up from school and had almost 30 minutes in the car with them, most of which was distraction free. I don’t text while driving (and rarely talk on the phone), my daughter did not bring her phone to school, and often my son’s phone was in his bag or at home. Although we weren’t have earth-shattering conversations it was a good time to reconnect after a long day apart. This year I still pick up my little kids, but my older son rides the bus home. He gets home about 3:10 and I leave at 3:25 to pick up my other children. I am typically on my computer trying to finish up my work for the day before I have to get the kids and the after school craziness starts. Sometimes he comes and sits in the kitchen with me, but instead of engaging him in conversation I often never look up from my computer. This is abhorrent behavior, it’s clearly having a negative impact on our relationship and it is going to change right now.
The other night my husband was not at home for dinner. This was distressing because Monday and Sunday nights are typically the only evenings that we all eat together so I was tired and in a lousy mood. I called my older son no less than four times for dinner, and when he finally joined us in the kitchen the phone was molded into his hand. He spent the meal pecking away at his keyboard while I silently fumed, and then put his bowl in the sink – still full of the chili I had made. (His diet is abysmal, but that’s another post in itself). My head near-exploded when my daughter told me that he was playing a game on the phone during throughout dinner. A GAME!
That’s when I realized I have failed as a parent – both in the example I have set and the rules I have [not] enforced. I hereby pledge that from this day forward there will be no more devices at the dinner table. But more than that, I am declaring a Device Detox – for at least two hours every day the children and I will be putting down our devices and engaging in more productive and more satisfying pursuits.
This won’t be easy – we all use our devices a lot. My youngest son watches shows and plays games on his iPad. My daughter uses her phone to text her friends, Snapchat, listen to music and her iPad for movies, games and studying. I read on the Kindle app on my iPad, write on my computer, and communicate with my phone. I know there will be protests and backlash – but I am committed to this.
I’ve got a lot more thoughts on this matter, so I’ll report back next month to let you know how we are all doing. But for now, I just heard the bus pull up – so I gotta go.
Have a super weekend! And try to spend at least a little bit of it unplugged.
***I, personally, am reluctant to use the word addiction in this context because I know too many families who are facing the challenges and tragedies of true addiction, and I believe that we, as a culture, tend to throw that word around to easily. Although, I do understand that many people, kids and adults alike, feel very real discomfort and even anxiety when they are separated from their phones, this is nothing compared to battling a true addiction.