This morning I almost missed an important work call, all because
I’m so tired of the dealing with the intrusion of technology that my current
strategy involves leaving my phone on silent at all times.
I’ve become that friend who misses text messages, that person
who schedules “email time,” and that writer who lives in a bubble. Years ago,
when I got my first iPhone, I considered it a gift. Finally, I could stay
connected and work on the go. These days, it feels like a weight on my
shoulders. It’s always there and it always wants something from me.
As it turns out, many families struggle with the constant
intrusion of technology. A recent study
in the Journal of Developmental &
Behavioral Pediatrics shows that parents’ use of mobile technology
around children causes internal tension, conflicts and negative interactions
with their kids. It’s a small study, and more work needs to be done, but the
response from participants is interesting.
For instance, as reported in a press
release from Science Daily, participants in the study consistently reported
struggling with multitasking, shifting between work and parenting, and
emotional tension around the disruption of family routines such as meals.
Some parents also reported experiencing a trickle-down
effect of the stress they experience when reading bad news (either from work or
world events) in that the stress they experienced while engaged with mobile
technology impacted the way they interacted with their kids.
On the bright side, however, many parents reported that
advances in technology enables them to work from home and remain connected to
friends and family.
“Everything in moderation” is a phrase that gets tossed
around when concerns about too much technology rise to the surface. The
problem, of course, is that it's difficult to walk away from the constant input
of technology in your pocket. Some study participants even admitted that
technology provides an escape from the “boredom” of parenting.
We can’t deny that technology interferes with family life,
and parents’ excessive use of mobile technology in the home can—and does—negatively impact parent-child relationships. Week after week, young children
sit in my office and tell me they wish their parents would put their phones
down. What feels like an “escape” to a parent feels like rejection to a child.
More than one child has looked me in the eyes and said that their parents like
their phones better than them.
It’s time to hit the reset button on technology use and finally set some appropriate boundaries.
1. No phones at the
It sounds like a simple rule, right? And yet I find that it
is a huge struggle for families. Between older children bringing their phones
to the table and parents who feel the need to check “just one work email,”
family meals are consistently interrupted by technology use.
Set a new and clear boundary in your home: No phones at the
table, no matter the need.
2. Stop short-changing
I can’t tell you how many kids tell me that they really want
to watch movies as a family, but the minute the movie starts the parents pick
up their phones and check out. This also happens when out in the world doing
other stuff. One child told me how sad he felt when, every time he looked at his
mom on the sidelines of his soccer game, she was on her phone.
To build relationships with your kids, you have to engage
with them. You have to be present. Watch the movie. Pay attention during the
game. Stop photographing every step of the family hike. Your kids want to make
memories with you. To do that, they
need your participation.
3. Carve out office
I know the struggle of finding time to work when at least some (if not all) that work has to be done from home. It’s
not easy, and sometimes the stress of keeping up with everything feels
You don’t have to spend every single second engaged with
your kids, but the quality of the time you spend together does matter. To that
end, schedule in work hours at home and find a space away from the kitchen and
family area of the house to focus on work. Tell your kids what you’re doing and
about how long it will take.
Just the other day I said to my kids, “I have two deadlines
to meet today. I need one hour of focused work time, and then we can go out for
a walk to the park. What can you guys do together while I work nearby?” They immersed
themselves in play, and I made my deadlines.
It’s hard to step away from technology in the home. From
work, to leisure, to education, we use mobile technology for a variety of
reasons. We can’t just talk about balance, though, we have to actually take
steps to find a healthy balance. The emotional health of our families depends