When we want to reduce our kids’ screen time, one of the best ways is preventative, on the front end. It’s so easy nowadays for kids (and adults) to turn to the screen to find something to do. While this convenience has its benefits, it ultimately keeps us in the “shallows” of living. The deeper, need-satisfying activities and relationships take a bit more effort, but they are well worth it! It’s like convenience, packaged foods – they are cheap, often tasty, and easy to access, but they tend not to satisfy our deeper nutritional needs. So, it’s important to take steps to ensure that screen time doesn’t hinder our relationships and other activities that tend to be the sources of more deeply-rooted happiness. As we look to strategies to help us rein in the tech beast, we needn’t look further than our smartphones which, as it happens, might be visible to us at this very moment. For the sake of our relationships, we will need to learn to put away smartphones.
The Allure of Smartphones
Smartphones have come to represent endless possibilities. They are gateways to so many things that we can do, see, and learn. They have come to represent the option to see who is contacting us, texting others, checking the weather, checking our email, seeing the latest news, posting to Facebook, playing that addictive game, and so on. There is so much POWER in smartphones!
Now, it doesn’t take a empirical evidence to know that texting someone else while having an in-person interaction can harm the quality of that in-person social interaction. However, researchers have found that the mere presence of a smartphone (i.e., it is visible) lowers the quality of in-person social interactions. When a smartphone is visible, attention becomes divided between the person we are with and those tantalizing possibilities that the smartphone has come to represent.
If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings, seeing a smartphone reminds us of “The Precious” that we wantssss soooooooo badly! Cell phones have a strange power over us, like The One Ring. They are tempting us constantly with the things that we can do with them. Middle Earth was better off without the power of The One Ring. However, smartphones, unlike The One Ring, aren’t inherently evil. They can be used for so much good! But perhaps that is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to put them away. We must understand that they do have to power to distract us from what is truly precious in life – our relationships and unfettered engagement in other activities.
So, we need to strive to do ourselves and others a favor. We need to put away smartphones (out out of the field of vision) when we are not using them. As parents, we need to model this for our kids and start to make it a house rule. To “level up,” it would also be even better to put the phones in silent or airplane mode when we are engaged in conversations or other activities. We need to nourish what is truly precious in life without being distracted by the endless possibilities that our smartphones have come to represent. We need to realize that who we are with now is where true happiness resides. What is truly “precious” is our relationships with one another. We must work to set boundaries to keep those relationships intact.