As a millennial mom, smartphone use has disrupted my life, and by extension, my parenting, over the last few years. My kids are being raised in a largely digital world that I need to continually examine and filter. What aspects of phone use will serve them? And what aspects are detrimental?
On the negative side, my phone can sometimes take my attention away from what matters most. And when that happens, I’m modeling a lifestyle in which my screen is queen.
On the positive side, though, having an interconnected world at my fingertips has supplemented my efforts as a mom to be my children’s “tour guide” through this world.
When we turn to phones with a clear understanding of their role as limited tools for life’s enhancement, not our taskmasters, we as parents can reap the benefits of cell phones while avoiding their vices.
1. Set screentime limits
Most parents look into utilizing some kind of parental control system for their older kids that have phones. I’m not there yet, but I’m preparing for that time but setting family-wide screentime boundaries that apply to our family. When it’s time for us to create and enforce cell phone limits with our kids, they’ll understand that we all need boundaries.
For example, my husband and I don’t use our phones during meal times. I’ve also blocked my social media apps with Apple’s screentime settings for certain hours during the day that I’ve designated to be fully present with my kids. Most parental control apps from the major carriers allow you to control screentime limits across all devices on an account, if desired, along with other capabilities (in addition to screentime limits) that can benefit parents and kids.
2. Preserve memories
Phones remove all obstacles to preserving memories. We have zero excuses to NOT capture the magic of childhood! I love that my phone allows me to conveniently video record an end-of-year dance recital, soccer play, or impromptu puppet show. And it’s compact enough that I can record while still maintaining eye contact with my child. I want my kids to know that I see them, and the world, face-to-face and not through the filter of a screen.
3. Turn up the music
Access to my music library on my phone is a game-changer in our house. All I have to do to set the mood in the house is connect my phone to my Bluetooth speaker and we’re good to go. Music motivates us to clean up toys or dishes, dissipates tension after a sibling spat, and gives us a reason to just laugh and be crazy during a spontaneous family dance party.
4. Simplify grocery shopping
I cannot recommend grocery order and pick-up apps enough. This will save you money, time, and effort that can be spent doing activities you actually love to do with your kids. If you’re like me, you’ve had to choose between either spending late nights wandering through the aisles or hauling kids around the tantrum-inducing grocery store. A quick trip to the store parking lot is a much more manageable journey to commit to! Plus, I save money using my local grocery store’s online coupons integrated with the grocery order app.
5. Nurture genuine connections
My phone has been instrumental in helping my kids develop relationships with relatives we don’t get to see very often in person. My kids love video-chatting with grandparents, who all live far away.
As a mom, I’ve felt lonely, depressed, bored, frustrated, and disconnected to other people. It takes time, some effort on our part, and even a little bit of luck to build a network — a village — we need to feel socially supported through motherhood. But with social media networks, video chatting apps like Marco Polo, and even just texting, moms can find and nurture each other like a virtual village that transcends geographic barriers.
As we adjust to our relatively new culture of smartphone ubiquity, it’s going to take some time for moms to balance the social (and, for many of us, work) benefits of phone use and the need to model healthy phone use for our kids. If you need to be on your phone, nurture genuine connections rather than just scrolling.
6. Use learning tools
Children thrive in environments where curiosity is nurtured, socializing is encouraged, and technology is implemented strategically in a variety of learning environments, and their education should include digital literacy.
When your library book about armadillos sparks unanswered questions in your preschooler, you can explore more through an online encyclopedia or an educational YouTube channel. And whether it’s an app that recognizes plants or one that teaches a second language, there are tons of amazing apps out there that can supplement so many facets of life, especially learning.
7. Acknowledge the struggle
The ever-present option of living in the virtual world is our reality, and it’s important that children understand the ways phones can help us and the ways unbalanced phone use can detract from living a full life. Discussing the struggle of cell phone obsession gives kids the gift of awareness as they grow so that they can make mindful decisions about their own habits when they’re out of your nest. Our family talks about how healthy eyes and brains need time away from screens and. When I mess up and go into Zombie mode, I’m not too proud to admit it. And now my kids call me out on it too.
What aspects of phone use are serving you? Maximize those actions, apps, and patterns in your home. Make your phone work for you instead of you working for your phone. Don’t be a slave to it. But let go of “perfect” and accept that sometimes you’ll feel unbalanced. As we continually re-evaluate and hone our habits, we model not only healthy phone use but also how to make a positive personal change.
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