Having two tweens, a teenager, and a social-media-loving mama (that’s me) in our house has forced me to do something for our own good. We now have “no phone zones,” and we desperately need them, myself included. I have been known to use the excuse that I am working, and it is true most of the time. My office is really in my phone, but I also get sucked into non-work things on a regular basis, and I often have moments when I am reaching for my device to check on something even if I don’t know what it is I am actually looking for.
I’ve realized I am searching for some instant gratification, an escape, or some kind of excitement that will be presented to me through an Instagram or Facebook post, and I really should be doing something more valuable with my time.
I am almost 42, and I need limits when it comes to my phone and screen time. So if it’s true for me, you better believe my kids need it even more than I do. To them constant stimulation feels good, to them it is a cure for boredom and a way to stay connected to their peers, but I also see something else happening to my three kids who are 10,11, and 13: They don’t know when to say enough is enough and realize they need to find a healthier way to spend their time.
They seem to go through withdrawal and feel anxious. They think they need to check out what is happening in their virtual world all the damn time because they don’t want to miss anything. It has started to shape their moods. When I tell them their time is up, they have been known to get grouchy and act foolish. And sure, taking away their devices for longer periods of time if they can’t put them down and move on to the next thing (without acting like they have been possessed by demons) has curbed some of that behavior, but it’s still a constant struggle to get them to look elsewhere for entertainment — to go play in the woods, or do an art project, or enjoy a simple car ride without a screen in their face.
And to be frank, it scares me.
I am afraid our kids are so accustomed to getting this quick fix to fill some deep chasm they think they have without it, that it can dictate how they feel about themselves. I know it has happened to me. It makes me feel silly to admit this, but it’s true: “Look! I got a ton of likes on that post!” or “Jenny hasn’t returned my text. Is she mad at me?”
We are losing sight of so many things this world has to offer because we are so used to being servants to our electronics. I know when I have my phone in front of my face for too long, I seem to get lost in it. Time flies by and I can’t concentrate on anything else. Honestly, at times, I start to feel a little depressed, and I don’t even know why. If this is happening to me — a mature, healthy, happy adult — then I can only imagine it has a similar affect on my kids’ developing minds.
So having certain times of the day when absolutely no electronics are allowed seems to be the easiest way to cope with this in our family, especially if we do these “no phone zones” together at the same time. If I don’t set these rules for my entire family, it is too easy for us to spend hours being sedentary tech zombies and not living life to the fullest. It is so much easier to manage when I set boundaries. There are set times and places for our phones, and times and places where they are strictly off limits.
Devices are definitely not invited to the dinner table. If I see a phone during dinnertime, it will belong to me for a few days. It’s not only rude, it’s also unnecessary. There are few things that can’t wait until after dinner when you are a teenager. Eat your meal, talk to your siblings, take in your surroundings, take a few deep breaths and ponder your day. Same rule applies if we are in a restaurant.
Bedtime is another big no-no. I don’t allow my kids to bring their phones to bed because they need their sleep. They are still growing and developing. They need to be well-rested to function properly at school each day. I refuse to let their iPhone hobby alter their sleep patterns and turn them into sleep-deprived jerks.
And because I’m not a hypocrite, I stopped doing it as well. It was the last thing I looked at before falling asleep and the first thing I picked up before I got out of bed. I couldn’t stand to have it sitting on my side table and not pick it up to see what I’d missed out on during the night. And guess what? I never missed out on anything, except some much-needed rest and relaxation.
And family gatherings? A big fat nope. Those electronics stay in the car. I’ve watched my kids too many times not playing with their cousins or not engaging with their family over Thanksgiving dinner because I let them bring their phones into another person’s house thinking the conversation and good food would distract them, only to see that they couldn’t seem to break away from Snapchat or Minecraft.
I never thought they would sneak them to the table and pretend they weren’t feeling good and put their head down next to their plate pretending to be staring at the floor because they “just need a minute” when in reality they were scrolling instead of enjoying Grandma’s famous fucking biscuits. Hell no.
The truth is if I allowed my kids (and myself) to zone out into a virtual world until bedtime every day, they probably would (most days), and it’s unbelievably sad. It’s not what I want for them, and it’s not what I want for myself. I believe in letting my kids express their individuality, and I encourage their autonomy, but there are other times when I feel like I need to draw the line for their own health and well-being. This is one of those times.
Technology is not going to go away, so it is our job to teach our kids boundaries around their favorite devices. Yes, we have days where we let them get a way with more because we are busy, overwhelmed, or have a bad case of diarrhea and need them to be occupied, but I have noticed the more I limit their screen time and enforce the reasonable rules that I’ve set, and we do this together as a family, the more my kids are able to pull themselves out of the technology-infused haze and pay attention to the finer things in life, like a good night’s rest and family holidays.