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The Brood: Are our phones getting in the way of family time?

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Our phones and electronic devices help us take care of all sorts of everyday tasks, but they can also cause some trouble.

Our phones and electronic devices help us take care of all sorts of everyday tasks, but they can also cause some trouble.

Doing something "worthwhile" like reading a book or sending an important email to your child's teacher on an iPhone can, to an outside observer, look like you're doing something like watching a cat video or scrolling through Twitter. 

It's a problem that writer Susan Dominus explored recently in a piece for the New York Times Magazine, called "Motherhood, Screened Off."

"I think that what happens when parents are on the phone (or anybody's on the phone around other people) is that not only are you checked out, you're not giving them your attention, but you're also operating in secrecy, not intentionally, but nobody ever knows what you're doing," Dominus says. "And there are many things that are complicated about that."

It can mean that a child won't see good examples of their parents reading a book or keeping up with the news, "but on top of that, I think for children, it's very disempowering, and also it's frustrating and a little bit threatening, because they feel you could be doing something trivial and ignoring them."

One solution she's found is narrating out loud to her kids what she's doing on her phone, while she's doing it. The other solution, of course, is making sure to just put the phone away during things like dinner time or game night. 

But are parents today really any more distracted than parents were in generations past? Dominus says she doesn't think so. 

"I think our generation of parents are extremely involved in our children's lives," Dominus says. "I think what's different [today] is that there's a sense of loneliness. So that, when my mother was paying bills, all the checks were on the table, I could sit with her and chat with her and see what she was doing and be with her. But there's just something so isolating about cellphone use."

For parents who are having trouble putting down their cellphones and disconnecting, Annharriet Buck, a stress management specialist at the Golden Door Spa, has some suggestions:

  • Practice mindfulness: "Three times a day, deliberately bring yourself to a moment where you bring all of your senses to your environment and really see and smell and feel and hear where you are."
  • Start a gratitude journal: "I love to have people write a gratitude list every night, and this a beautiful thing to do with children as well. Where you pick out three things that happened today that brought you great joy and great happiness, sort of like gathering a bouquet of beautiful moments during the day that you then write down by hand -- not on a device!"
  • Make a "digital detox box": "It's the place where the devices go during important family time, during meals, and at bedtime. And so you sit down with the kids and design this box and decorate it and then everybody knows what it's for."

To hear the full interview with Susan Dominus and Annharriet Buck, click the link above.

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