Remember being a kid? At meals, you probably talked to your parents and siblings. You may have watched a lot of television, but you certainly didn’t carry the TV to your bedroom at night. When your mom walked in the door from work, she wasn’t on a phone. Your dad either. Car rides were a time for conversation.
And when you went to your room to do homework, you couldn’t hang out with your friends on Instagram instead.
But these days, screens have invaded these and many other facets of family life. So, we asked Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age for some ideas. Here’s what she told us.
1. Model no screen use. Teenagers follow the model, not the rule. So, if you really want your teenager to use his or her phone less, you must too. One idea: get up thirty minutes earlier than your kids to check your email and take care of other pressing online activities, so you are not on your phone from the moment your kid wakes up until they are out the door.
2. No Phones In The Car. If you are talking on the phone, your teenagers can’t talk to you and use you the way they need to. And when you pick your teenager up at school, don’t do the “Hang on honey, I want to hear all about your day in one sec when I finish this call.” This is a moment our teenagers want to connect with us. It hurts their feelings when we don’t. Be present, and that means be off the phone. If you have a really long car ride, you can have different rules, but even then there should be time for connecting.
3. Leave Work Outside The Home. When you come home from work, do not come into the home mid-phone conversation. Get off your phone. Stand outside, in the rain, in the garage, whatever – do not bring work inside. It’s so sad to me, I can’t tell you how many kids will tell me that they don’t run to hug their parents anymore because who wants to give them a hug when you get a “Shh, one sec, this is an important call …”
4. No Screens At Dinner. Dinner conversations are for connecting in happy ways. It’s not about stress, it’s not about grades, it’s about helping each other solve problems, about asking for advice, it’s about current events, talking about your day, letting kids show who they are and being amazed by their individual opinions. It’s an important time to come together as a family and show care and concern and curiosity about each other. Put the phones away.
5. Be Present. Really, you have very little time with your kids. Older kids tell me over and over again, “I feel sorry for my younger sister or brother. My parents are always on the phone or computer.” Families used to matter a whole lot more before we had all this technology. When you are on a screen, you’re not present for your kids.
6. Have One Room For Phones. This is a tough one, but have a room in the house that is for mobile phones, and the rest of your house is mobile phone-free.
7. Be Present at the Very End of the Day Too. This may be bedtime for an adolescent or when your older teenager is just hanging around her room. The end of the day is often a time that many teenagers will want to talk. Don’t miss it by being on a screen. “It’s the best time of the day, if you let it be.”