Smartphones are a useful part of family life, but they can also be a source of distraction and conflict. How can parents balance their smartphone use with spending quality time with their children? Here are some tips and insights from experts and research.
Set boundaries and expectations
One of the challenges of working from home is that the boundaries between work and personal life can become blurred. This can lead to parents feeling pressured to be available for work-related calls and messages at any time, even when they are with their children. This can affect the quality of family interactions and the well-being of both parents and children.
To avoid this, parents need to set clear boundaries and expectations with their employers, colleagues, and clients. They need to communicate when they are available and when they are not, and stick to those times as much as possible. They also need to prioritize the most important tasks and avoid multitasking or checking their phones constantly.
As Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan, says: “We don’t have to be on every call; we don’t have to be 24/7 available; everything is not equally important. Boundaries are about valuing yourself, your time, your relationships, your health, your energy.”
Create phone-free zones and times
Another way to balance smartphone use and family time is to create phone-free zones and times in the house. For example, parents can designate the dining table, the living room, or the bedroom as places where phones are not allowed or put away. They can also agree on specific times when phones are switched off or silenced, such as during meals, bedtime, or family activities.
Creating phone-free zones and times can help parents and children focus on each other and have more meaningful conversations. It can also reduce the temptation to check or use phones impulsively. Research shows that even the presence of a phone on a table can reduce the quality of social interactions and the sense of closeness among people.
Model healthy smartphone habits
Parents are role models for their children, so they need to be mindful of how they use their smartphones in front of them. Children learn from observing their parents’ behavior and attitudes towards technology. If parents are constantly on their phones, ignoring or interrupting their children, or expressing frustration or anxiety when using them, children may pick up these habits or feel neglected or insecure.
On the other hand, if parents use their smartphones in a balanced and responsible way, they can teach their children how to do the same. They can also explain to their children why they use their phones, what they do on them, and how they benefit from them. This can help children understand the purpose and value of technology, as well as its limitations and risks.
Engage in shared activities that involve technology
Finally, parents can balance their smartphone use and family time by engaging in shared activities that involve technology. Instead of using phones separately or in isolation, parents can use them together with their children for fun or educational purposes. For example, they can watch a movie, play a game, listen to music, read a book, or learn something new on their phones.
Engaging in shared activities that involve technology can help parents and children bond over common interests and experiences. It can also help parents monitor and guide their children’s online activities and teach them digital skills and literacy. Research suggests that shared media use can have positive effects on children’s social and emotional development, as well as their academic achievement.
Smartphones are not inherently bad or good for family life. They can be both beneficial and harmful depending on how they are used. The key is to find the right balance between smartphone use and family time that works for each family. By setting boundaries, creating phone-free zones and times, modeling healthy smartphone habits, and engaging in shared activities that involve technology, parents can make the most of both worlds.