26% of parents say they’ve used media as a distraction when with their children and we all certainly know our own smartphone use may be changing who we are as parents. No question I get cranky with my kids if I’m emailing on my phone and they interrupt me. Just one of many unfortunate realities of having work with us at all times. The more devices I use and the better they become at helping me enjoy life, the more imminent the need for getting serious about the daily calisthenics of doing things without our devices. Remember this article, Don’t Text While Parenting: It Could Make You Cranky ? It is becoming more and more uncomfortable for us to be away from our “phones” as we progressively depend upon them for daily living. I use my phone as a computer, a mail service, an organizer, a calendar, a video camera, an activity tracker, and a GPS every day. Of course I like when it’s around but there is also NO question that the best part of the last week of my life was time when my device wasn’t in arm’s reach…

5 Tips For Compartmentalizing Your Digital Life

  • On a Diet: We parents can model effective “media diets” to help children learn to be selective and thoughtful about compartmentalizing digital tools. I fail at this all the time, slipping into old habits or just “checking something quickly” online when unnecessary. Working on crafting a plan for what I consume and when I consume it, helps. Also thinking about what our children watch and play online/with devices and for how long, helps too. Yes, have movie night but also think about co-viewing programs with your children of any age and spend time discussing values and reactions you have to shows you watch and apps you play together. Be intentional showing your children the things you do to minimize technology interfering with things you love (keeping cell phones out of bedroom, putting cell phone in backseat of the car so you don’t text and drive).

  • Sacred places: the bedroom, the breakfast/lunch/dinner table, and the car. Leave cell phone off the dinner table even if during dinner your child asks you to “wiki” something (I’ve fallen prey to the urge to search during a conversation and broken rules).  Make it a habit to leave your phone at home every day for a period of time.  Head to the park without your phone or leave home without your phone or device intentionally and tell your children. Turn your phone off before driving. Do this when with them: show them how awesome you are and how important they are.
  • Spell This Out: You have to spell out how to compartmentalize your digital tools:  make a media use plan, including mealtime rules and bedtime curfews for devices in your home (e.g. no cell phone use after 9pm, no TV until homework done, no cell phones in bedroom). Review the plan and talk about it formally with your kids. I sincerely think one of the most powerful rules we can make is to keep all screens out of kids’ bedrooms, always including tablets and phones. We know teens text at all hours of the night because that beep/buzz of a text coming in is exhilarating and curiosity-inspiring. Having kids start with digital-free rooms early will help. When your child or teen tells you they use their phone for their alarm clock (such a common, convenient excuse to keep the phone in bed), go buy them a $12 alarm clock…
  • Time: Remember these awesome tablets, smartphones, computers, and video game units are devices of privilege. We can’t eat bon-bons all day. When you think of this globally, needing to make a media diet is quite an embarrassing and luxurious problem for us to have. These tools are privileges for learning, speaking out, connecting, and listening.  Acknowledge the luxury with your children and limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day as best you can. Work to avoid passive media (watching shows without interacting with the content — “the electronic babysitter”)  in children under 2.
  • Detox as a family: Take digital breaks together. It’s so much easier to stay away from my smartphone if my husband is also taking a break from his. Take vacations as a family without devices (or take afternoons without them) and partner-up to make it work. It’s always surprising to me how exceptional the time is while detached from our devices…a lesson I learn over and over again.