“GET OFF YOUR PHONE. Your child is happy to see you. Are you happy to see your child?”
This is the message posted on the door of a Texas daycare, and a photo that went viral in 2017. Facebook users shared the photo over 1 million times.
The image’s popularity signals the pervasiveness of cell phone addiction, particularly for parents of small, reliant children.
We all experience lapses in attention. Many millennial moms and dads can relate to that sudden rush of guilt you feel when you realize you’ve been sitting in front of your child, staring at the phone in your hand instead of playing.
We read this behavior as admissible, though antisocial, among other adults. But to our kids, who don’t truly understand what your phone is, we need to remember that it just feels like being ignored.
Breaking up is hard to do.
Work at a self-directing job originally challenged me to separate from the screen. But my toddler – bright-eyed, social and phoneless – has made me painfully aware of how often I turn to my smartphone. Once I decided I wanted to cut back on using my smartphone around her, I realized how hard it was to resist.
There are many tools and trends out there promising to help control smartphone addiction – from apps that limit smartphone usage, to best-selling books on mindfulness, and even the resurgingly popular “dumb” phones.
In my experience all you need is a small pad of paper and something to write with.
Reaching for your smartphone is a mindless impulse.
I was working at a call center when I first needed to develop a technique to mitigate my smartphone use.
Even though I had been told by my manager on my first day to keep my phone in my desk drawer, I discovered quickly that if it sat on my desk (like everyone else’s) nobody cared.
And soon, I found myself unable to resist reaching for it in between calls.
Sometimes the days were slow and I felt compelled to check Instagram. Maybe I needed to ask my husband a quick question, or Google some random piece of information.
Eventually, I had to own the fact that my productivity suffered. I began to answer fewer emails, mentally checked out during shifts, or got sucked into conversations with my family seconds before a call.
If I were my own boss, I’d fire me. The behaviour had to change.
I turned to the pen and paper in front of me and devised a simple solution. Every time I felt the urge to reach for my smartphone, I’d write down what I wanted to do instead. Then, when break time rolled around, I could run down my list.
Two things I noticed when I started keeping a list.
Immediately, I felt that I had regained control. Little thoughts like “Did my husband book his train ticket? Have I got the number for the cat sitter? I need to pay the hydro bill!” no longer derailed my focus. I could acknowledge them, park them, and carry on with the task at hand. I felt more organized, focused and productive.
I also had the uncomfortable experience of facing the triviality of my own thoughts. My list also grew to include things like:
“Find out when Megan Markle is due…. See how many likes my Instagram photo has… Can I make my own dish soap?”
No matter how embarrassing my “I-want-my-phone” thoughts were, I forced myself to write them down and look at them. When the time came to go down my list I had to stop and say “Do I really want to spend time on this? Did I actually want to check Instagram 15 times? Do I actually care?”
Bringing the technique home
Sometimes hanging out with small kids – even your own, beloved small kids – is boring.
Feeling the impulse to Google something trivial on your phone, scroll a newsfeed or gawk on social media is totally normal.
However, unlike any generation before, millennial parents will need to face how smartphone interaction in front of our kids will affect them. We need to consider, define and employ proper smartphone etiquette. We’ll also be the first generation of parents to realize the impact.
You can read more about my recommendations for smartphone etiquette for millennial parents here. If you’re looking to control your smartphone usage in front of your kids, I recommend you give this list-keeping trick a try.
You may find it easier to stay present before long, and pay attention to the moment in front of you. You may also learn, as I did, that you were reaching for your phone for no good reason at all.