“Hello? Did you even hear what I said? Hey! Hello? That’s it, drop your phone and put your hands in the air!”
Have you ever gotten the blank stare? Have you ever given it? You know the look, eyes slightly glazed over as they come back into the present with a, “Did you say something to me?”
“Yes. I did. We need to talk seriously about phone time.”
When we got our first cell phone, it was brick-sized and we only had ten minutes a month on our plan for emergencies. Even that was a stretch for our budget. When Oldest turned eighteen, we gave her a phone as she left for college. Kent’s cell phone was provided by his work, so we only had to pay for two phone lines. (Do we still call them that?) When Middle One got his phone at age eighteen, Kent suggested we add texting to our account, “Because he’ll never call us, but he will probably text.” True statement. Phone service was decreasing in price and phones were included in the plan, so still a stretch, but doable.
Youngest turned sixteen and I started giving her my phone when she was driving on her own. Her older siblings quickly figured out that almost every time they needed to talk to me, she had my phone. So, they lobbied hard for us to loosen up the “when you turn eighteen” rule. They made their case and she got one. Phone service was still expensive so we had limited texting and flip phones.
Enter the Smartphone. Somehow, we managed to swing Smartphones for everyone except me. I didn’t want one because Smartphones were larger than I wanted to carry on a run with me. I could out-text the best of them on my little flip phone, though.
When phone technology reached the point that my phone wouldn’t accept the pictures, etc. the kids were sending me, I finally caved. Oldest got her first job and her own phone plan. (Yay!) Phone companies decided to make texting and data more affordable. Our family stepped into the world of Smartphones with data for everyone.
Suddenly, social media, weather, streaming channels, and eBooks entered the picture and a phone was no longer just a way to communicate with friends and family. Whatever you wanted to do, there was an app for that—banking, GPS, scheduling your day, games, music, shopping, learning a language—the list became endless. More and more reasons showed up for spending time on the phone and less actual communication time with the people in the room. It became the norm to see a group of people completely oblivious to each other, lost in the world of Smartphone. I sometimes found myself wanting to yell, “Drop your phone and put your hands in the air!” just to see what would happen.
Before I go any further, I confess, I have been caught more than once paying so much attention to my phone, that I missed someone trying to get my attention, so no judgement from me, but, we are seeing some disturbing evidence that extended time on our phones has some very real and very harmful consequences. Disrupted sleep, detached relationships, and distracted driving are only a few of the issues surfacing and the list of the effects of each one of them is long and troubling. This attachment, or addiction, to our phones is concerning enough, that we as parents need to pay attention. We need to address it in ourselves and in how we model and handle it with our kids.
I was listening to a podcast the other day, on my Smartphone, (Fierce Calling from dorisswift.com) with guest Dr. Mel Tavares, a Counselor and Board Certified Mental Health Coach. She talked about a Bible study she led with a group of women that was written by John Eldredge, called Get Your Life Back, Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad.
The first meeting, she told class members to turn their phone on airplane mode for the duration of the class. Those in attendance complied, some with great anxiety, but everyone survived the meeting. Second time, they were asked to put their phones on airplane mode and leave them in a basket by the door. Third time, they had to leave phones in the basket and take a walk outside to look at flowers, trees, birds, nature. Dr. Tavares said that by the end of the class meetings, some members were leaving their phones in the car.
Our youth pastor did a similar study at our church. He talked about the number of notifications each phone received during class meetings. It was astonishing. When that ding, or whoosh, or chime, or whatever each app is set for goes off, do you twitch until you can get to the phone and check to see what it is? Food for thought.
I’ve turned off notifications for most of my apps. Texts, phone, and emails are on, but most everything else is off. My family knows that my phone is on for them always. They respect my sleep time, etc. but they know if they need me, I do my absolute best to be available. Other than that, I limit the control my phone has in my life. It’s a great tool, but that’s all it is, a tool.
Drop your phone and put your hands in the air! Then use those hands to play a game, express yourself in conversation, hug someone. Family, friends, and life are precious and fleeting. There’s so much we miss if we’re constantly on our phones. I plan to silence some of the distractions from my phone and pay attention to it all.
Blessings! Happy Fall!
Photo credit to Alyssa Smith