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Put down the phone!

September 12, 2012

Words with Friends. Angry Birds. Facebook. Texting. Online banking. Google. Our smart phones sure are hard to stop playing with. Anyone who’s got one can relate. Smart phones are just… fun. They truly give us the world at our fingertips. But, what happens when we can’t stop playing with that world and we start ignoring the one that we actually live in?

I knew I had a problem when I was sitting on the couch, checking Facebook, and my son asked me a question. I heard his voice, but not the question. After he asked it again, he followed it up with another question. “Are you on Facebook, AGAIN?”  I looked up into his 6-year-old eyes and felt… bad. Yes, I was on Facebook. Again. For what purpose, I can’t really say. I was probably reading about a friend that I haven’t talked to in five years that isn’t really even my friend anymore. What was I doing? Worst part was, this wasn’t the first time it had happened.

I was checking out. Checking out, or escaping reality, is a normal thing that we all need to do from time to time. People do it in all kinds of ways. Music, exercise, television, going on the internet, and reading are just some of the ways that people cope with life. We all need a little break, and boy, did that smart phone provide that break for me. Suddenly, I had a glorious ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes, where I did not need to go over my mental grocery list, remember to feed the cats, think about what we should eat for dinner, or go through the growing pile of mail on the counter. I had found temporary bliss-  well, bliss for me, but not for my kid.

We all know how it feels. That irritating feeling when you are trying to talk to someone and their nose is almost touching the screen of their smart phone. They are texting, researching, paying bills, or playing a game, and they are BUSY. It feels as if they are too busy for you. And it doesn’t feel good.

So, thanks to my little boy, I had a reality check about my “checking out time.” The decision I was making to “play on my phone” was having an impact on my child and how he felt about me. I was not going to accept that he could be walking around feeling like I’d rather interact with my phone than with him.

It wasn’t easy, I’ll be honest, but I made a rule for myself.

My son was not going to see me “playing on my phone” again.

Here’s what I did:

  • The phone is put away after we get home and is only brought out when I need to receive or make a call.
  • Texting is not done with my son around. If I need to text, I go in the other room. I don’t send needless texts if he’s around. If I get a text and he’s around, the text doesn’t get answered until after he goes to bed, is in the shower, etc.
  • I do not go on Facebook or play any games when he is around me.
  • Online banking, googling stuff for fun, and paying bills are all done after he’s gone to sleep.
It was hard, but, really, it wasn’t hard for long. I reorganized my time. Time spent playing games or checking Facebook decreased dramatically. I was now only giving myself short amounts of time during the day to use the phone. I also was balancing the important stuff, like the bills and the email checking, in with the free time, so there wasn’t as much “play time.”  My phone time consisted of time spent in traffic (not while driving!), wait times at appointments (including drive thrus, bank tellers), and during my lunch breaks.

Funny thing was is that I still had enough time to do everything I needed to do. As far as me getting to do what I wanted to do, I did give up some of that. However, I knew it was for a good cause.

My phone activity has all but disappeared from my son’s life. Now, that doesn’t stop him from asking to play Angry Birds himself. He can play with the phone, but he follows a set of rules, too.

  • Whenever we need to talk to him, he is to pause and put down the phone, make eye contact and talk with us.
  • If we ask him to do a chore or get ready for dinner, he is to turn off the phone without complaint.
  • He has a certain amount of phone days and times that he is given throughout the week. When it’s up, it’s up.
  • If there’s excessive complaining, then he loses the phone privilege. We know that being told to put the phone away, even in the best behaved child will likely exude an, “Awwww, man….”, so we try to let a little complaining slide.
Giving up the phone really did not turn into a major sacrifice; I still get my “checkout time.”  I exercise, I talk with my family, sometimes I just sit on the couch for ten minutes and do absolutely nothing. The down time is still beneficial. It’s all healthier choices (physically and emotionally) than escaping into the phone.

Best of all, when my son comes to ask me a question, I’m no longer so distracted that I don’t even notice him!