By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
I have a four-year-old who is obsessed with my phone. Not in the way you might think; I don't let her use it or play games with it. Every time she pretends to be a mom, a play phone is an essential part of the game. She pretends to be in Zoom meetings while simultaneously pushing her baby bear in her stroller. I am not sure if I am impressed at her ability to multitask at age four or horrified because a part of what she views a mom does is spend time on the phone.
In many ways, smartphones give modern mothers critical access to the flexibility necessary to be caretakers, workers, home keepers, friends, spouses, and more! I, for one, am thankful that I can use my phone to work from the sidelines of the playground. Even as I am thankful that I can check emails while being with my kids, I also feel the constant struggle to make sure I have the proper boundaries between getting tasks done and being present and available for my kids. Being a body in the same space as my kids is not the same as being a present and engaged parent! The struggle to not let work, social media, the news, or whatever flashy notification you are attending to on your phone steal from your ability to connect with your kids is real.
How do we set proper boundaries when it comes to phones as parents? I am not sure there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but I know if you are at all like me, you sense you should do better in this area of your life. Here are a few tips to help you be better at being intentional with your screen usage around your children.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/FamVeld
1. Organize Your Day and Create Tech-Free Time
One unavoidable reality is that technology is a necessary part of most adults' days. Most of us parents aren't just scrolling our phones for fun; we have work to do. A tip that has helped me is to create times in my day that I intentionally let my kids know I have work to do, so they know that is why I am using my phone or computer. I pledge to be tech-free and fully present to engage with my kids in other parts of the day.
What this looks like depends a lot on the time of year for our family. When we don't have schoolwork on our plates during the summer, I spend time working and replying to texts and emails after breakfast while my kids play independently. When school is in session, I try to make mornings tech-free (for everyone), focusing on being together and getting school done. I save all my work for the afternoon when my kids have finished their schoolwork and are either resting, playing, or have their own TV time.
I feel much less guilty about replying to emails and text messages if it does not interrupt the time that my kids need me to be engaged. I don't want them to feel like they are second to whoever needs me on the phone, and if an urgent matter comes up, I just let them know, and we all pause the work that we were doing together until I can once again give them my full attention.
Photo credit: © Getty Images/Antonio Guillem
2. Give Your Phone a Home
A useful tip to help you avoid the urge to check your phone constantly is to give your phone a home that is not on you. We have a little shelf in our kitchen that our phones live in. When my phone is not in my pocket, I am way less inclined to spend time just scrolling Facebook while my kids play.
My phone lives in its home while I cook, when we eat, and during our tech-free times of the day, and is only taken out if I have an urgent issue or we are leaving the house. This helps me avoid the temptation to check out everyone's Instagram stories 17 million times in a day (which I always regret doing anyways).
3. Turn Off Push Notifications
Do you know what can so quickly take my attention off my kids and onto my phone? That little ding that comes when you get a notification! And guess what - my kids know what it means too! My daughter will bring me my phone when she hears that little ding and tells me someone needs me - better check your phone, Mom!
The fewer of those enticing dings to get you distracted, the BETTER! Every time someone posts their stories or when a Pokémon is in the area, I don't need to know. My phone likes to tell me when all of these things happen, and as soon as I start down the rabbit hole of checking out one person's new post, I find how quickly I have wasted ten minutes on Facebook not being productive or present at all.
We need to be the boss of our phones, and it's okay to tell it to be quiet. Silence all the unnecessary fuss, so you only hear that ding when you need to know what is happening. I get in trouble all the time because I intentionally leave my phone on silent, so I often respond late to text messages. I figure that it's better that I'm a late texter, but the benefit is that I can be a more present person in my home.
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4. Fill the Time You Would Play on Your Phone with Another Activity
I get that there can be some very long days at home, especially when your kids are young. Sometimes your phone is the only access you have to the outside world. A way to stop your phone from sucking all the free time out of the day is to replace that wasted time with more intentional activities.
For example, if late afternoons are the worst part of your day and all you want to do is check out, that would be a great time to load everyone into the stroller (or force your big kids up) and get a walk in together. Walking is an easy change of scenery and usually offers prime space to have some good conversation with your kids. Another late afternoon go-to for us is baking! We often bake a treat or snack for the next day before we make dinner. My kids love helping me mix and measure all the ingredients. When we cook together, I also feel like I am giving them some slightly healthier snack options, which is always a win!
Identify times of the day that you are most tempted to check out and get pulled into the vortex that is the internet and begin to fill it with more valuable activities that you can do with your kids.
5. Model How to Have Healthy Technology Boundaries for Your Kids
One of the most important parts of all this is for us as parents to model how to maintain proper boundaries with technology for our kids. Technology, I think, is one of the most difficult things to navigate as a parent today! I can't tell you how many times a day I worry my kids have watched too much TV, played too many video games, or that I have not been as present as I should be with them because I was consumed with being productive online.
The world our kids are headed into is one in which technology is available to them 24/7. We need to show them how and why limits are important when it comes to technology use. I talk to my kids almost daily about why we limit their TV time and screen what they can and cannot watch. These conversations come to us so often, mostly because they want to spend more and more time behind a screen than we allow as they get older.
We all need this reminder because it is so easy to let technology do the parenting for you. There is a lot of danger in allowing our kids or ourselves unlimited access and screen time. Sleep issues, depression, obesity, and anxiety are just a few problems that become more prevalent in our homes when we don't have a healthy relationship with our screens. We have to be the boss of our screens and be the parents of our kids. Intentionality and wisdom on how, when, and what we allow in our homes when it comes to screens is so important.
I encourage you to take some time and think about what your vision of healthy screen time for your home would look like. Then start putting boundaries in place to help you achieve this vision. Just remember, none of us are perfect at this! There are some days where I have spent too much time on my phone or allowed the TV to be my babysitter… and my kids are doing just fine. The important thing is that we put in place guardrails for all of us, so most of our days are spent intentionally being connected rather than unintentionally being distracted by all those dings and feeds!
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Hal Gatewood