Christmas is upon us! As we skate through the holiday season I wanted to share some of the ways that I have found to both evaluate and update smart phone usage in your home. After all, the Holidays are a time to connect with our families, enjoy time spent with friends, and remember with gratitude the blessings of the past year.
In the age of digital-everything, I’ve found that while I might have a desire to be on my phone scrolling and rolling my way across the internet, my propensity to pick up my phone doesn’t always bring me what I’m looking for– JOY! In fact, the more I spend precious weekend minutes (and hours) on my phone the more bothered, bugged, and dissatisfied I become.
Engaging in an era of constant technological reinvention can feel exhausting. However, as we realize that smartphones are tools– tools that have a very functional, serviceable purpose, yes– the better we will be able to stave off the smartphone toll– disconnection, dissatisfaction, and disappointment.
My phone can call up my latest dinner recipe, play my favorite song-set, cue my most recent to-do list, and give me access to my current yoga routine. To me, these are all winning ways to use my phone. I can also admit that I’ve used my phone as a babysitter (hello most recent trip to the salon), and I’ve used it as a kid-entertainer (hello date night for mom and dad). We call this the “cell phone trick”, but as parents we always need to check ourselves in terms of how much screen-time we’re allowing. Kids can’t and shouldn’t be responsible to either enable or limit their own media consumption. That job still rests on the shoulders of thoughtful parents.
Getting your Instagram fix is fine, but if you find yourself scrolling mindlessly through your feed over and over you might want to choose a few other activities that keep your attention and bring human interaction.
Add an app to track your usage
One of the best ways to find out how much you really use your phone is with an app to track your usage. With a recent iOS update, my phone began giving me a weekly “Screen Time” report. Now whether this was always available on my phone and I didn’t use it, or whether this is a recent Apple installment, this weekly Screen Time report is a great way to get a picture of your phone use!
I’ve really liked knowing how much time I’m spending on my screen, and it enables me to see how much time is spent on the individual sites on the internet as well as on apps that my kids use like Minecraft. For example, last week I spent a total of 20 hours on my phone. To me that sounded like A LOT. But when I saw how much I spent on my meal planning website, the clock that I use as a timer in my class each day, and the time that my kids played on various apps (about 5 hours total). I felt as though I was a more aware user. For me this awareness brings the opportunity to evaluate, re-set if necessary, and scaffold my phone use for the next week!
Put your phone away at dinner. Period.
This hard and fast rule has really changed the atmosphere in our home. I’ll give my husband and I a pat on the back for continuing to honor family dinner, and I’ve written about the power and importance of this daily ritual here on Refined + Rugged. But making sure that family dinner doesn’t devolve into a family internet surf has really helped to make the precious moments of the day we get to spend together even more meaningful.
A lot of families have cell phone use rules, and I hope that yours is one of them. My philosophy is that having rules and usage guidelines that apply to EVERYONE in a family helps to communicate to ourselves and to our kids that the human is in charge of the phone not vice versa.
As we have set specific times that phones are not allowed or not present, I have watched the way that our interactions with one another grow in meaningful ways. We spend more time outside, we spend more time talking and laughing together, we spend more time reading, playing instruments, getting in a workout, doing homework, participating in activities in our community. As our cell phone usage goes down, our engagement with one another invariable increases, and our happiness quotient generally rises. Win!
Create Times when Phones are Acceptable
Along with being sure that you have hard and fast rules for putting away your phone, it is also wise to make sure that you have times when phones are appropriate. For example, we really do take dates in our small town and leave our boys at home to play games on the phone, watch TV, or generally have screen-time. Because we are only a few blocks away, it feels like getting more bang for our buck to have the smartphone act as our babysitter.
We also have a weekly Minecraft club at our library. I was originally reticent to sign the boys up for an hour of game time each week. However, instead of causing MORE screen-time later in the week, it has allowed us the freedom to play and game and the freedom to say, “No, you had your screen-time on Wednesday.”
Saturday morning is another time we allow our kids time on the smartphone or smart-device. Hard working parents need breaks, but I have found that it is best to have these as scheduled times. If my people know that Saturday morning is one time they will be able to watch television, play Minecraft, and use apps like “The Elements”, we all have this screen-time to look forward to rather than allowing it to rule every minute of our lives or make a fight when one isn’t needed.
Remember that Small People are Watching
The more our world engages in the digital universe the more we may find ourself interfacing with technology. Remember that individuals, partners, families really can make a difference in digital citizenship by evaluating and then limiting smartphone and smart-device usage.
As I look at the way I use my smartphone, I have been reminded that in most cases when I am on my phone some small set of eyes is watching. Try this for an afternoon or a day. Turn off your phone. Put it in a drawer or in a desk and then go out with the purpose of observing the way that other people use their phones.
Think about the fact that for most children the ideas, images, examples, and trend-setters for smartphone use are the adults in their life. For the most part they walk about without phones watching the way the the world around them chooses to interact with technology. What would the smartphone world look like to you if you were a child?
For example, we have strongly encouraged reading in our household. A few nights ago my boys were soaking in the warmth of their good reads in front of a glowing fire. I have been guilty, in these moments of silence when my children are engaged, to take the time to peruse my phone. In other words, my children are engaged in the real world, they are learning, reading, growing and expanding their sweet minds, and I am taking my “phone time”.
How does this look to them? Because as much as I may pretend to limit my smartphone usage, there are certainly times when I should make the executive decision to TURN IT OFF. I made the choice then and there to grab a book, highly recommended to me by our school librarian, and read.
Make a list of all of the activities you like to do without your smartphone
Maybe you’re not an avid reader so picking up a book isn’t appealing to you. Instead of a book, what you should look for is an enterprise that excites you that is not linked to your phone! While writing this post, I was encouraged to make a list of all of the activities, projects, and endeavors I can opt into before I pick up my phone.
While your list may look different from mine, the idea is the same– make the time and take the opportunity to do things that don’t involve digital isolation. Even when you are commenting a friend’s Facebook post or latest Instagram update you do so in a vacuum in that very moment. You are all alone. What are other things you can do to keep your spirits high and your outlook positive in the coming year?
When you’re stuck scrolling, just turn it off!
In the end, if you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone on a Friday evening– STOP! One of the most powerful realizations about your phone is that you are in charge. So if you do end up in the internet’s web far out into the galaxy of google searches, it might be best for all to simply put the phone down and walk away.
Take Stock of your Situation
Just as you might look at the Screen Time stats on your phone, take the time to evaluate your phone usage over time. Sometimes we take a couple steps forward and then a couple of steps back. I am advocating a constant analysis of the ways which smartphones can be corralled, limited, and controlled as a mode of human convenience rather than a time-sucking monster.
My ultimate concern is that we model for our little humans the kind of digital citizens we hope that they will be one day, and that we leave the rising generation with the skills to realize that they are the masters of the digital world, not vice versa.
I hope your Holiday really is merry and bright. I hope that the love and connection you create transcends technology. I hope that reigning in your phone will put you back in the driver’s seat of your sleigh. Sending you love and well wishes from an average human fighting the good fight to unplug, unwind, and fully enjoy this special time of year. Happy Friday, friends.