Unplug: 7 Practical Ways to Be Present for Your Family
by Dale Reeves
In 2020 the number of smartphone users in the world is 3.5 billion, which translates to 45.12% of the world’s population. This figure is up considerably from 2016 when there were 2.5 billion users, just 1/3 of the global population. In some developing countries basic feature phones without apps are used by another 1.28 billion people, which means that 61.62% of all people in the world are cell phone owners.
According to npr.org, just over half of children in America, a whopping 53%, own a smartphone by the age of eleven. And 84% of teenagers now have their own phones. In a recent survey of kids ages 8-18, they were asked to self-report how often they used their smartphones every day. The totals? The average was more than seven hours a day for teens, and nearly five hours a day for “tweens” (kids from ages 8-12). Generally speaking, boys are more addicted to video games on their phones, and girls are more prone to spend time on their phone listening to music, checking out sites of their favorite pop groups, and consuming social media. No wonder so many teenage girls struggle with self-image and body issues, anxiety, and depression.
Like it or not, that is the world we live in today, and I haven’t even begun to talk about how much time adults spend on their smartphones every day. That’s why last Sunday Brad Wilson talked about how the cell phone has challenged all families today when it comes to engaging with one another on a regular basis. And, that’s why we gave every family who attended Christ’s Church last Sunday a gift—a cell phone “jail.” If I’m being honest here, I must admit there are times when my wife has to challenge me to put away my phone in the evenings so that we can talk. It is a hard discipline to learn because we have become so accustomed to living our lives on our phones these days. And, the results of that have been disastrous for families.
A trend in cell phone use that is on the rise is referred to as “phubbing”—or “phone snubbing.” Looking at a cell phone rather than interacting with the person you are with damages your relationship with your romantic partner, your kids, and other family members. According to a blog posted on psycologytoday.com, there are at least five reasons why parents need to put down their phones. Check it out here:
- Moms on cell phones have children who are more negative and less resilient.
In one study, infants and toddlers from seven months to two years were assessed for temperament, social engagement, exploration, and post-disruption recovery. The researchers reported that children expressed more distress, and were less likely to explore their environments when their mothers were using their phones.
- Children feel unimportant, and have to compete with smartphones for parents’ attention.
Parents may feel they are “multi-tasking” during meals, conversations, and other family times, but they are really not being fully present—and their kids know it!
- Distracted parental attention harms children’s social and emotional development.
Distracted parents tend to be less predictable, reliable, and attentive. All children need predictability and consistency from parents for the emotional system to develop properly.
- Cell phone use interferes with healthy parenting.
A study was based on observations at a fast-food restaurant where a parent pulled out a device immediately upon sitting down. This should come as no surprise: The kids whose parents were absorbed in their devices were more likely to act silly or be noisy. As parents became irritable and impatient with their kids it often led to worse behavior.
- Kids feel sad, mad, and lonely when parents use their cell phones.
In a survey of 1,000 children between the ages of four and eighteen, a number of them reported damaging or hiding their parents’ cell phones so that they could get the attention from them that they craved.
Children in our families thrive when they receive consistent, dependable, focused, and loving attention. As much as possible, when you are with your spouse, your parents, or your children, be with them. Unless you must deal with an emergency text or phone call, or something specifically addressing a family member, put away that phone or other electronic device. Put it in its jail cell. Out of sight, out of mind!
So, what should you do with all that time you have reclaimed as you contemplate how to spend it with your family? Here are seven practical ways to be present physically and emotionally with your family (after all, the number seven is the number of completion in the Bible!)
- Write notes to each other.
With so much time spent on electronic devices these days, writing physical notes has become a vanishing art for too many people. Tuck a note into a backpack, a purse, or a briefcase and you will bring a smile to the one reading your love note. Leave Post-It notes on a computer monitor, a handwritten note on the refrigerator, or on the car dashboard and watch it change a family member’s perspective on their day!
- Cook and bake together.
Teach your children how to cook by making it family fun time. You can pass down family recipes from past generations and help prepare your kids for surviving on more than ramen noodles in college.
- Eat dinner as a family.
With all of the activities, conflicting schedules, business travel, and craziness of life, this can definitely be a challenge. But as often as possible, make it a priority several times a week—and remember that no phones come to the dinner table. Catch up with one another by telling the “best part” and “worst part” of your day.
- Create rituals and traditions.
Celebrating holidays as a family is crucial to passing down traditions from generation to generation. But rituals and traditions are not just for the holidays. These might center around certain days such as family birthdays, “snow days,” movie nights, date nights, or family game nights. You are creating memories that will last a lifetime and show that you truly do care about family members more than electronic devices.
- Support each other by attending activities.
Every family member has special talents and interests. Take the time as a family to attend dance recitals, soccer games, band concerts, or whatever else family members are involved in. Our two daughters have never forgotten that my wife and I attended all their high school musicals, even if that meant I had to watch a high-school version of Les Mis about a hundred times!
- Demonstrate that everyone has a voice.
When you are deciding how your family should spend time together, allow your children to chime in with their opinions. If your kids feel like their opinions and preferences are valued they will be happier when you do go do something as a family. Our first trip to Europe happened because our daughters suggested the destination when we discussed what we wanted to do as a family to celebrate the end of the college years. And I am so glad they chose Europe!
- Attend church as a family.
In this smartphone age, families are now attending church less frequently together. On average, many families that used to attend church twice a month are now attending together only once a month. There are a number of reasons for that, and I would encourage you to read this article to see why.
The priorities we demonstrate to our family members matter eternally. Even though a mother of a newborn may not believe this during a very tiring and exhausting day, the moments we have to pass on our values to our children are fleeting. We must take advantage of the time we have been given as a gift.
“Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!” (Ephesians 5:16, The Message).