It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay home mom or an ad executive. The temptation to constantly use screens is all around you. Smart phones and tablets are portable, right by your side throughout the day. The screen world is enticing because it promises something new with every interaction. Beep. Someone messaged you. Of course, you immediately check your phone because you want to know if it’s urgent or important. It’s neither, but you have been trained to respond at a moment’s notice.
Often screen time leads to something pleasurable like an email bearing good news or funny photo. A squirt of dopamine is released and this intermittent reward keeps you coming back to your screens for more. It doesn’t matter if it’s a text saying thank you or a great deal on shoes; the gratification that comes from the click is real. If you are not careful, this rush of responding to blinking lights and buzzing gadgets can be addicting.
A very small percentage of Americans, fewer than 10 percent, are clinically addicted to technology but about 65 percent of people abuse it, according to technology addiction therapist Dr. David Greenfield. “The phone’s never off, so we’re never off,” he said. “You sleep with it next to your pillow. We’re not designed to be vigilant 24-7.”
The wired world has moved the workplace right into the family living room. We are no longer forced to leave our work behind at an office desk; we take endless emails and problems home with us through our devices. Employers capitalize on this connectivity by expecting emails and texts to be responded to immediately, even after hours. Or maybe since we’ve “twittered” away our time during the workday browsing the Internet and checking personal emails, we need to get caught up at home.
Is it really that important to be plugged in 24/7 to your work? For some professions, the answer is yes. But for most, the answer is no. You are able to set boundaries regarding when you are unavailable by phone or email. Poor screen management can’t be pinned on a boss. Each person must take responsibility for how he uses screens and how much time per day is devoted to technology.
For many parents, it’s not a job that is keeping them tied to a phone all day. It’s simply become a habit to be constantly checking the phone, scrolling through emails, or clicking through channels. Friends have come to expect instant responses to texts and social media posts. While we are jumping through hoops to respond to everyone else within minutes, our children are the ones on hold. They are watching and learning from our digital reliance.
The smartphone was created to make your life more convenient. If you don’t answer the phone, the caller can leave a voicemail or choose to text. You don’t have to reply right away. The digital information left by the caller isn’t going anywhere. If you take a call or answer a text while you are talking to your children, you’re setting a model for them. The phone takes precedence over talking with one another.
Of course there will be exceptions when you are anticipating an important call and you tell your friends or family members you will need to take it whenever it comes. If you are in the middle of texting and someone wants to talk to you, it’s fine to say, “Let me just finish this text.” After finishing the text, don’t move on to something else without checking back with your friend. Give her your undivided attention, face to face, for those few seconds as she asks a question or makes a comment. That short focused positive interaction communicates, “You are important to me.”
After all, a person who is right there in your space should take precedence over a thousand friends on your phone.
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This article is adapted from Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Arlene Pellicane and Gary Chapman. Enter for your chance to win one copy of this new book.