A second-grade teacher asked her students to name something they wish had never been invented and ended up with a viral Facebook post. Four of her 21 students wished cell phones had never been created because they didn’t like how much time their parents spent on them.
Everybody is talking about technology and its effect on kids, but what’s less often talked about is the effect of parental overuse of technology on their children.
According to Thrive Global, “In a large international survey of over 6,000 parents and children from countries in North America, South America, Asia and Europe, over half the children said their parents checked their devices too frequently and 32 percent of the children reported feeling ‘unimportant’ as a result.”
Several years before reading this article, I realized that technology was taking over my time with my kids when I started getting antsy at our dinner table. Because I filled every spare moment of my day staring at my phone, I couldn’t handle these few moments of downtime. Over the next two years, I adapted how I interact with technology, replacing poor habits with healthy ones and transforming technology into a useful tool, rather than a time-eating consumer. Here are some of the changes I made to my technology use:
- Limit notifications: Before smartphones, we checked our email when we wanted to—the action was controlled by the user. Now, we’re drawn into email, news, and social media as things appear, constantly being pulled in different directions that are dictated by our devices. One healthy step to correct this is to turn off unnecessary notifications. I turned off all my social media and email notifications so I could check those things at times when I wanted to engage with them.
- Monitor screen time: Most phones now have built-in ways to track how much you’re using your phone and what apps you’re using the most. I use my iPhone’s “Screen Time” feature. When I first started tracking this, I was appalled at the amount of time I was spending on my phone. But through weekly monitoring and daily app limits, I eventually cut my usage down to an amount I found reasonable.
- Eliminate mindless scrolling: As I examined how I was using my phone, I realized I was in the habit of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram anytime there was a slow moment in my day. It was certainly a way to relieve stress, but I wanted to find healthier ways to use these extra moments of rest. I started keeping an e-book on my phone and filling that down-time with reading. At times, I also intentionally didn’t even take out my phone. Instead of filling every moment with something, I allowed some moments to be completely empty, enjoying the temporary slower pace. Check out this month’s Faith Formation Ministry Coaches’ Corner for ways to transform these moments into micro-Sabbaths.
- Institute technology Sabbaths: In his book The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch recommends taking technology Sabbaths for an hour a day, a day a week, and a week a year. During those times you avoid any unnecessary technology use. Following this for the past year and a half has been wonderfully refreshing. For my daily Sabbaths, I focus on the two-and-a-half hours from the end of my work day until I put my kids to bed. I try not to touch my phone, making this uninterrupted family time. These Sabbaths give me a break from technology and (hopefully) communicate to my children that they come before my phone.
- Be an example: Model technology use you'd like to see in your children. This is especially important for young parents. My kids don’t have a phone or tablet they could be using at the dinner table, but they already know our “No screens at the table” rule (and they remind my husband and me of it if we slip up). Someday, I hope they will also notice that my phone sits outside my bedroom at night and apply that example to where their phones go before bed. Decide now what healthy technology use will look like for your preteen, teen, and adult children and begin modeling that use to them.
These are five things that worked for me—your five things might be completely different. Decide what you want to work on and look for resources in that area. A good place to start is the Technology page of the Family Faith Formation Toolkit. Another great starting point is The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch (mentioned above and on the Technology page).
Technology isn’t going anywhere—in fact, we’ll only encounter it more in the coming years. Decide now how you’ll mindfully engage this helpful tool.