When I became a mom two years ago, I made a vow. I promised that, in spite of the digital age we’re living in and my career in digital content, I would not be the parent tied to their smartphone 24/7. While my need to use the internet for my work is inevitable, limiting my phone usage around my children is something I can control and take seriously.
But allow me to step back for a moment: The iPhone undoubtedly changed life as we know it. Since its debut in 2007, we’ve seen more and more people converting to smartphones and integrating them into their daily lives. And while 16 years may sound like a substantial amount of time to some, it’s not enough to fully understand the repercussions that come with spending hours on a smartphone every day.
Why I Want to Set a Good Example for My Kids
As most readers probably know, too much screen time has been tied to a number of negative side effects: Childhood obesity, sleep disturbances, behavioral problems, and poor academic performance are issues commonly associated with too much screen time in children.
When you’re talking about smartphones, there’s also “tech neck” to consider and—perhaps most dangerous of all—the addictive qualities that programmers purposefully build into games and apps. Phone addiction is real, and it’s scary. Too often when I’m out in public, I look around me to see everyone staring down at their screens. It makes me feel sad and frankly a little sick. When did so many people stop enjoying the world around them?
I feel blessed to have been born in a time before smartphones. I know what it is to live life beyond the “black mirror,” and I want that for my children too. If you’re also looking to limit your phone usage around your children, here are some of the practices I’ve incorporated into my daily routine.
I Put My Phone Away
It’s not rocket science, but to limit my phone usage, I physically put my phone away. I’ve come to realize that I’m much more likely to pull out my phone and check any notifications if it’s in my pocket. To limit unnecessary phone-checking while my kids are around (seriously, what am I even checking for?), I make it a point to keep my phone off my person. It doesn’t have to be far (placing it on the kitchen counter will do), but physically separating myself from my phone keeps it out of hand and, more importantly, out of mind.
I Tell My Children Why I’m Using My Devices
Of course, one of the things I love best about smartphones is their ability to capture high-quality photos and videos—and I don’t think anyone has more photos on their phone than parents. If I’m using my phone to take photos or videos, I communicate that to my children. Checking the weather? I say, “Let’s see what the weather looks like today.”
I make a point to demonstrate to them that I’m using my phone with intention. Once I’ve completed the task in question, I put my device away. I think it’s important to make this distinction out loud—my phone is a tool, and this is how I’m using it.
I Avoid Using My Phone for Work
I work from home. As far as my young children know, “work” equates to me using my laptop. While I do have Slack on my smartphone, I make a point of keeping work strictly tied to my laptop as much as possible, especially when my kids are around.
My oldest child is two. He doesn’t understand the concept of work, but he knows that if I’m on my laptop, that’s what I’m doing. If I were to do work on my phone, I would be using my phone more often. Again, it comes back to intention. He knows that when mom’s on her laptop, she’s either writing or “talking to the people” (i.e., taking a Zoom call). I’m not a social scientist, but I do truly believe that making that distinction and demonstrating intention matters.
I Occasionally Indulge My Unhealthy Phone Habits When the Kids Aren’t Around
I’m not perfect. While I definitely try to limit how much of my time is spent mindlessly scrolling Instagram or refreshing my email, I do occasionally indulge my unhealthy phone behaviors. Sometimes my brain just needs some time to watch funny videos or scout out outfit inspiration. I just make sure to limit these mindless screen sessions to when my children aren’t around, whether they’re at daycare or in bed for the night.
I feel it’s important to mention that, while I limit my screen time for my children, I also do it for myself. My children are only going to be this precious age once. There are only so many years in which we’ll all live together under one roof, and I want to soak this time up. There’s nothing living beyond the dark mirror of my phone screen that’s more important than that. I don’t want my life to pass me by with my head bent at a 45 degree angle, my thumb continuously scrolling.
While my children will eventually grow up and have smartphones of their own, it’s my hope to guide them toward a healthy phone-life balance. l want them to know that it’s possible to be connected to the world at large, document your life, and achieve tech-savviness without having a phone in your hand 24/7. I hope they come to view smartphones as tools that can make life easier without losing sight of the grander life beyond the screen.