If there are two phrases that get tossed around a lot in our house, it’s “Time to put your phones away!” and “No more screen time!” I know the feeling of being overwhelmed by electronic devices all too well. Often, I find myself frustrated with my kids’ obsession with the latest social media and video game fads, worrying about the impact of their electronic gadgets on their still developing brains. Just as often, I anguish over my own work-related screen time and periodic bouts of fear of missing out from my social media feeds.
Thanks to the smartphone, tech is everywhere, all the time, and there’s a gross imbalance between the time now spent on gadgets and time spent outside (probably time spent face-to-face with other people as well, though I don’t have the statistics to back that up). At times, I feel like the online worlds that we engage in, each member of the family on their separate device, is a toxic distraction from “real life.” I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, it’s a complaint I hear from other parents almost daily. And many of us – children and adults alike – have a hard time self-regulating. Instead we binge.
Having said that, I know technology isn’t the enemy. I’m infinitely grateful of the apps on my smart phone that allow me to do everything from paying my bills and playing music to monitoring my nephew’s diabetes and navigating through places where I’ve never set foot before. Technology has made all of our lives a lot easier and safer – and more fun. Even though we may think of our online reality as separate from the rest of our existence, it’s very much a part of real life today.
The holy grail of parenting is finding a balance between the two. It should be a telling sign of the times that HUI Research recently selected the cell phone storage box – a container that helps people unplug from their phones and tablets – Christmas Present of the Year in Sweden. The jury motivated their selection with the fact that more and more people are starting to question their cell phone use and what constantly being plugged in is doing to their relationships, sleep, concentration and mental well-being.
The selection wasn’t uncontroversial; some people criticized it for being preachy and out of touch. I personally think the jury is on to something. Smartphones and tablets are highly addictive and as long as we have them within reach, we tend to pick them up and get distracted. A cell phone storage box, or “unplug box,” helps quench the temptation to mindlessly scroll the never-ending social media feed, start another round of Word Feud or compulsively check the latest app notifications. If there is one holiday gift that could benefit the whole family, I think this is it.
Tips for using the cell phone storage box
- The cell phone storage box doesn’t have to come from the store or be very fancy. A simple, homemade box will do the job just fine.
- Keep the box with gadgets in an inconspicuous place. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Have a specific time of the day or pick a day of the week that is screen free, so that you get into a routine. It’ll be easier for everyone to adapt if you all know what to expect.
- Try to spend time as a family and plan some alternative activities when you unplug. Get the kids involved as well.
- Establish screen-free “zones” in your home, for example around the table at dinner or in the bedroom at night.
Be prepared that changing your family culture when it comes to smartphones and other electronic gadgets won’t happen overnight, especially if you have older kids who are used to always having tech at their fingertips. I’m in the middle of it myself, having set out at the start of the year with the ambition to have a screen-free day of the week. A year in, we’re still finding our way on this journey and we struggle at times, but overall, I think having intermittent self-imposed break from tech each week has been a good thing for our family.
To me, trying to unplug at times is not about fighting progress, but learning how to be intentional with our screen time. As HUI Research notes, smartphones may have changed our behavior faster than anything else in human history. Putting them away every once in a while won’t hurt the progress we’ve made. But it may be detrimental to our mental well-being and our relationships if we don’t.