Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm Going for Less Screen Time and More Choice

It's lunch time, and my three year old is sitting peacefully munching on a sandwich.  It's one of those rare moments when I feel like I can catch my breath.  I'm not slathering almond butter on sandwiches, unstacking the dishwasher, or trying to throw one more load of laundry in before I get to sit down to eat.  Then I feel the pull.  It doesn't occur as a conscious, Let's see what's going on in FB-land; moreover, it's this magnetic sensation emanating from my phone.  Certainly someone has texted me in the last 15 minutes.  Another email coming in?  What about the provocative yet annoying conversation about gender on FB? And then I remember that we have a new family agreement: no screen time during meal times.  Thankfully, this feels more important than actually checking my phone - and truly, I don't have any urgent messages coming in that I know of . . . So I sit with my son and we eat and banter, and life feels a little bit more spaciousness than before.  If you're reading this, and you're one of those people whose life is chockerblock full from moment to moment, then you can appreciate this.

When did life get so full?  And how does having a smartphone/tablet/laptop seem to fill life up even more?  How we can teach our kids about having more spaciousness and choice in their lives?  Where does it begin?  I think it begins right here.  Now.  It begins with actually turning off the phone and not answering the pull to check check check. I think it begins with the following:

Create a vision about what you want around screen time. What does that look like?  Why even do this?  If it doesn't bother you, then there's no point in changing it. If your friends, family, loved ones have complained, then you might reconsider what you're doing.  If you're always feeling "on," then you might reconsider what you're doing.  If you want to be pulled in fewer directions, then you might reconsider. 

When do you want to be pulled away by your phone? How often? And for how long? Get specific and make a plan.

Start with noticing.  When do you check your phone? In line? In the bathroom? (David Sedaris has a great piece on this.) When you eat?  While driving? At stoplights?  With friends?

The second part of this is noticing when it's work-related.  With so many people working part-time or full-time from home, it's easy to have few boundaries around work-related phone-checking. You might consider actually setting up work hours from home otherwise you can be on the clock practically 24/7.  You might also have focused hour chunks of e-mail only time.  Social-media only time. 

The third part is why do you check you phone?  Aside from work, is it for entertainment purposes? Informational?  Desire to feel connection (i.e. social media)? Educational? To get off?  This is a great place to notice the reasons behind what's pulling you. (It might even be the oxytocin rush you get from checking your phone.)

Elimination Communication.  You parents know what that means. In this case, it means choosing to eliminate specific times when you are checking your phone.  For obvious reasons, the car is a good beginning. Secondly, I'd recommend meal times. Here's an interesting overview of studies that have been done relating to families and meal times

Here's what we do in our house.  Ringers are turned off, and phones are placed in a different room - or at the very least off the table.  This means, our attention is not pulled away by the swoosh, ring, or ding of the phone.  This also means we don't or won't spontaneously look up king python images or figure out if snakes really do eat other snakes (note: we're on a snake rampage right now).  It can wait.  

Punishments and rewards.  For my husband, checking his phone during meal times means he can't drink milk.  If you knew how much he loves milk, you'd get what a sacrifice this could be.  You need to figure out what this means for you and your family.  No screen time later?  A screen time money jar?  A phone stack?  A large enough sum of money that goes to a friend if you break your promise? If you make it through a week without checking, then a treat? 

Consider alternatives. Now that you're not checking your phone or looking at a screen, what will you do? How about "15 Conversation Starters That Don't Suck"? Or exercise? Or simply sitting quietly and enjoying every mouthful of food that you eat?  

It seems to me that screen time today is what TV used to be for me growing up.  My parents certainly set limits on it.  Watching "The Incredible Hulk" or "Dukes of Hazzard" was a treat, not an entitlement.  The challenge right now is that screens can be used for so many things  not just pure entertainment.  It takes extra vigilance to notice when we default into using our phones and let it control us, not the other way around.  I certainly notice when I am constantly being pulled.  I notice when I'm not constantly checking my phone and how much more spacious I feel.  If nothing else, I know this is how I want my son to feel: to know he has choice, not obligation or entitlement, and to know he can feel open and spacious and creative without needing to be part of the hive mind (hive mind: probably a new blog post entirely).  For now, I'm going for less screen time and more choice.

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