It’s a new year and a new you. More likely, if you are like me, new year and same me. However, this ‘same me’ is hoping to make a few positive changes over the course of the year. One area I would really love for my whole family to improve on is screen time. While technology is here to stay and expanding in many facets of our lives, it shouldn’t be our primary focus if we want to cultivate and maintain meaningful connections with our loved ones.
One area of concern I have is my boys’ video game time. I’m not quite on board with banning video games from their lives completely, but I would like to make sure they have other interests. I am constantly on the lookout to make sure they are functioning well at school, with their peers and in any and all social situations. My oldest son is naturally gregarious, so he seems to be doing well in that department, and my youngest, while more on the quiet side, is able to hold a good conversation as long as he finds the topic interesting. To ensure that they continue to be more than their video games and text messaging (the latter applies to my thirteen year old), I give them limits and structure. They aren’t allowed to play video games during the school week, they must engage in some physical exercise each day and I encourage them to have down time. All this is after homework is completed. If they happen to be in an extracurricular sport, then that counts toward their exercise time. They are surprisingly compliant with these rules because on weekends and vacations there is more flexibility. On these occasions, they know upfront that interspersed on their allowed ‘gaming days’ they have to take breaks to read, to play or to get moving. This way they get lots of gaming time (which they love) but also are developing other aspects of themselves (which I love). It’s not a perfect system, but I believe that by giving them this structure, it allows for discussions about technology in our lives, shows them that life is about happy mediums, and sets them up to make informed choices about technology in the future.
As for myself, I have an ambivalent relationship to my phone. I appreciate the instant connectivity it affords me, especially when communicating with my husband, but I sometimes feel tethered to it in an unhealthy way. I find whenever I have a lull in my day, I have the inkling to mindlessly scroll the internet and 95% of the time, I don’t learn anything that truly impacts me in a positive way. However, in the name of being on alert in case my boys’ schools call, I am stuck with my phone through the day for better or worse.
To combat my unhealthy attachment to my phone, once my husband walks through the door in the evening, I put it up for the night. If he is traveling, I aim to have it off for the night by dinner time. I don’t charge my phone by my bed, I put it in our front room in a cabinet well out of reach. Often, in the mornings, I’m so busy starting my day that I don’t even have the urge to check it until well after my boys have left for school. That’s always a good feeling. I feel less frazzled if I start my day technology-free. I have to admit, I do cheat a little, ok a lot, when it comes to my phone when I’m out with my family. My husband has to have his phone always with him for work purposes, so I happily leave mine at home. It feels great to be out in the world without a phone to distract me from the wonders of life, but I know if there really, truly was an emergency, I could be reached via my husband’s phone. Turns out, I can’t remember one single time an ’emergency’ like this has happened. If you don’t have the luxury of a spouse who always has a phone, maybe leave it in the glove compartment, put it in your back pocket or in a purse. Do whatever you can to keep your attention on the ones you are with and be mindful of your surroundings. It’s in these moments that true connection is built. Isn’t that worth more than all the technology in the world?
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent