Wake Up, Dad!
Not too long ago, I was driving home from a stressful day of work. There were so many things I didn’t get done that day and it weighed on my mind. I didn’t want to be distracted by these thoughts while with my children so I decided I’d try to check a few more items off my list.
I called one of the many people I needed to call back. Unfortunately, the call lasted longer than expected and I was still on the phone when I pulled into my driveway. My four and seven-year-old daughters came running up all excited to see me. As they bounced up and down and opened my door, I put my finger up with a smile to signal: “Give me one minute.”
They quickly lost interest and went back to playing with their friends. So I thought I’d answer two or three more emails on my phone.
When I finally did walk through my front door I was checking a text. I wish I could tell you that this is where it ended. But to be short. I checked Facebook, brought my phone to dinner, and was physically present but emotionally absent most of the evening.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself (and Your Relationships)
When I set out to write this article, I was totally ready to write about the impact screens are having on our kids. Especially because far too many parents give their children smartphones and tablets way too early.
Then I realized that there is a bigger fish to fry. Parents really need to put on the metaphorical oxygen mask first before they put it on their child.
Another way to think of this is the blind can’t teach those who are still learning to see. This is all to say that we parents can’t guide our children in the digital age when we have our own problem.
This is especially dangerous for the parents who don’t even think their phone is impacting their parenting.
Let’s take a quick test. Be honest!
- How often do you use your phone to deal with feelings of stress, boredom or inadequacy? In other words, are you phone-medicating?
- Do you know how often you look at your phone and is it intentional? In other words, do you personally screen your screen time?
- Do you find being with your children less interesting and exciting than checking Facebook and seeing that red indicator? In other words, are you disconnecting from family for artificial connection?
- Are people always put before machines at family dinner? In other words, did you know that what your kids really want (and need) for dinner is your attention?
- Have you ever noticed that your parenting skills decrease as your phone usage increases? In other words, did you know that your parenting will be more inconsistent and slapdash the more you use your phone?
These questions require serious, honest reflection.
I am old enough to remember life without smartphones, Facebook, YouTube, and even the Internet. Occasionally I wonder: “What would my parenting look like without screens? Would I be a better listener? Would I more effectively assess and solve the problems in my family?”
It seems that we’ve come to accept this technological takeover as the norm. As a professor of family studies and as a parent, I am convinced that far too many of us parents are unaware of what’s happening.
We are wired to connect. But we are disconnecting wirelessly.
A study from 2013 found that:
- At least 70% of people say they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
- 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep
- 48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
- 51% check continuously during vacation.
- 44% said they would experience “a great deal of anxiety” if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week.
Unfortunately, we have every reason to believe that these numbers have only increased over the past 3 years.
5 Ways to Reclaim Your Mind and Your Parenting
I know you are a conscientious parent. If you struggle–like I do–to be smart with your smartphone, here are 5 ways to get your mind and heart back into your parenting:
- Be intentional. Be the master and not the servant of your phone. Take time after the children have gone to bed and do an honest evaluation of where you could improve. Consider the special moments you could be missing.
- Set boundaries. Make sure certain times are sacred. Eat together. Play together. Work together. If you can, put your phone on vibrate, turn it off, or set it in another room.
- Be mindful. Take time to meditate and clear your mind. Instead of using your phone as a coping mechanism, disconnect and learn healthier ways to deal with boredom and stress.
- Solve problems. Once you have learned how to be mindful (it takes practice), the feelings of inadequacy and failure that often come with parenting can be put in their proper place. You’ll be surprised how many parenting issues you can solve if you mindfully disconnect once a day.
- Be patient. As you work to improve at being more present in parenting, be persistent but also patient with yourself. (A nice bonus is that as you follow these ideas you will find yourself being more patient with your kids!)
You can do this! The love you have for your children is stronger than anything you will experience on social media. Let that desire for real connection drive you.
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