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Put Down Your Smartphone

Your kids deserve your whole-hearted attention.
By Dan Sheaffer


My son, Isaac, is 2 years old and loves to imitate me. Kids are just wired that way—it's how they learn about life.

Sometimes this works out great, such as when you are teaching them to pray; other times you hear them repeating bits and pieces of your audible road rage.

Isaac picks up on my workout habits. I typically run a few times a week. Each time I return he meets me at the door and asks if I got sweaty. For some reason he thinks this is really cool—or maybe he is double checking to make sure I actually got a good workout. Either way, he will usually go grab his "running shoes" and start wearing a path around the house trying to get sweaty.

As I thought about some of my habits and how they are mirrored in my son's life, I realized that he also watches my technology habits. He notices exactly how much time I spend on my phone. There are two reasons this is not good.

First, I am not fully present when I'm glancing at the phone. I'm not as good at doing two things at once as I'd like to think. This usually means I end up paying more attention to my phone than my son. 

Second, the moment the phone leaves my hand, he is there to pounce on it like a dog on a steak bone. Ten years down the road I don't want his head looking down at a phone instead of being present in the world around him. Fighting these battles starts with me, right now.

The word "imitators" appears six times in the New Testament, most often used by Paul. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul urges the Corinthians to be imitators of him as he is of Christ. He conveys the significance of being a good example for others and just how important that responsibility is; even going as far as to call himself their father in Christ.

I decided to make some changes by implementing three basic rules regarding my phone use. These changes have created more focused time with my family. I have also seen a healthy change in the attitude of my son toward technology.

No phones at the table. Early on in our marriage, my wife and I bought our first smartphones. We initiated a rule about not having phones at the table with us during meals, which we broke often. So we began to put our phones in another room during meals so we could concentrate on each other. Your kids will notice a big difference, too. Use that time for family conversation or for memorizing a verse together.

Leave work at work. It is nearly impossible to find a job that does not require the use of a smartphone.  Some people even carry two or three. Sometimes there's no way around it. But because my phone provides such accessibility, I am more likely to bring work home. This is not healthy for our family, so I came up with a strategy: Work needs to be completed before I turn off the car and walk into the house. Necessary phone calls are made during the ride home. After parking in the driveway, I check and respond to any immediate text messages or emails. But after the key turns and the door closes, I am done. I will not look at work again until the next morning unless the time has been prescheduled after the kids go to bed.

Put your phone in time out. A friend told me that when he gets home from work he will put his phone in its charging station—which happens to be at the top of a tall book shelf—until after the kids go to bed. What a great idea! I realized how much time is needlessly spent glancing at the phone. There are times when we need to specifically use it, but checking your latest social media update or the last weather update must be cut out. Putting the phone in a charging location has allowed for better focus with my family and better play time with my son.

Putting these three rules into place has been huge. I have felt more present with my family. If there is an urgent matter from the office, it can wait until later in the evening. If a phone call is missed, oh well, I'll call back later. When your kids are spending too much time on a phone and it bothers you, the first place to check is with yourself. As parents, we must be worthy of imitation.

I'm new at this game, but I've heard repeatedly by those who have gone before me that time with the kids goes much too quickly. I want my son to understand that he is more important than my phone. Learning from Paul's example, parents have the responsibility to lead their kids spiritually. This can be done better when we put down the smartphone.

 

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