Sometimes we need to disconnect in order to reconnect with what matters. (Author Unknown)
Not only are teenagers spending a lot of hours on their screens, so are adults. No one is immune to the attraction of being constantly connected to Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram, and not wanting to miss an IM from a friend. FOMO (Fear of missing out) seems to be real for all of us. However, technology is replacing the reality of quality family time. Is your family guilty of focusing on their screens perhaps a little too often? As a life coach this is one of the discussions I often have with parents. The parent is concerned about the amount of time their teenager is spending on their devices. I often hear the trials and tribulations of parents trying to limit screen time for their teenager. I ask the question, are they looking at how much screen time they are accruing? The answer is often “no”, and then a pause. If you really want to know how much time you spend looking at your phone, guess what, there is an app that will track that and let you know exactly how much time you are on your device. However, a better approach is to set some family guidelines to the when and where and usage of their devices.
The first step to limiting screen time is to evaluate when you as a family can all give up your devices and spend time communicating. It involves putting devices in the other room or on “do not disturb”. The agreement to stop looking at devices really does not work if you are reading text messages on your watch. I encourage families to write down when they will limit their screen time and put the plan in a place of prominence so that everyone can follow the rules. It is also more likely that everyone will follow the rules if they can see them and realize that everyone in the household agreed to them. So what are some easy ways to decrease screen time?
One of the easiest is to have everyone involved in cooking a meal together. Everyone has a role, from prep work, to setting the table, to cooking. This can be easily followed by a family dinner at which no one has their devices. It is an opportunity for the family to connect. The conversation can begin with evaluating the dinner preparation. How did it go? And perhaps critiquing the dinner and what could be done to improve the meal for next time. This is an enjoyable conversation that promotes family relationships and communication.
Another option is date night. In our house we called it date night. We went to dinner at a restaurant as a family, and no one was allowed to bring their phone into the restaurant. For the duration of the meal it was about communicating. No Instagram-worthy photos for the teenager. No Snapchat to their friends on eating out with their parents. It was about being together as a family and focusing on what was going on in the lives of each of us. A conversation-starter we have used for years in our family is sharing what was your high and low of the day. Our children would share something great and something not so wonderful. It is a great way to spark communication and learn more about what is going on in your teenager’s life.
There is the opportunity to get outside and do something as a family. I am not suggesting everyone try and run a marathon, but there are so many outdoor activities. It may be a family walk, a family hike, or just sitting on the beach and watching the sunset together with no phones. I know how tempting it is to take a phone to watch a sunset for that instagram photo, but there are lots of sunset photos on Instagram. Just enjoy the calm that nature has to offer.
Although it is not really turning off the screen, enjoy a movie night together, whether it is at home or out at the movies. Either way, it is a no-phone opportunity, and the opportunity to discuss the movie once it is over.
All of these suggestions take commitment, as the habit is to concentrate on our device screens. Now there is the conscious effort of not having the phone with you while you engage in other activities with your teenager. Your teenager will push against the change, which is why it is so important to have the conversation together and agree on the opportunities when the phones will be put in the other room or placed on “do not disturb”. It is like anything you do with your teenager. They like to know the reason behind the choices, but more importantly they like to be involved. Teenagers are developing critical thinking skills, and having them help solve the dilemma of too much screen time in the house is a learning opportunity for them. Perhaps they write out the goals and hold everyone accountable so they flex their leadership abilities by taking charge. In the end, the time your family takes to unplug and enjoy the relationship that you have with each other is priceless.