This is the final installment of a three-part series.  Read part one and part two.

May 2012

After I wrote recently about the ways new technology (cell phones, iPads, internet, etc.) are changing the way we relate to each other, one reader wrote to say, “I completely agree with the technology issues. It just sucks us in. I have been staying with my sister for a few months to help with a new baby and her husband sits on the couch with his iPod touch, Kindle, or tablet almost all night after work.”

She described a husband and father who remained glued to his devices at dinner and “into the wee hours of the night.”  He yelled at his 1-year-old son if he dared to interrupt his concentration.  “He claims to be a Christian, yet does not fulfill his role as husband or father, except to provide food and a place to sleep, and is angry a lot.”

Many of you could tell stories similar to this.  It’s not that the technology is inherently bad.  Far from it—it helps us connect with people in many positive ways.  The problem is that so many people are unable to control it.  “Technology is replacing our godly relationships!” another reader wrote.  “Our electronic communication has become an easy way to escape genuine communication.”

Household rules

Many readers wrote about the boundaries they were implementing in their families to promote face-to-face communication.  Here are some highlights:

1. No devices at the dinner table.   This was mentioned many times in emails. Dinner time should be reserved for conversation.  One reader wrote, “I totally agree that we are losing the ability to communicate on a verbal level due to the technology that is so prevalent. Not long ago at a family gathering, there were five adults sitting around the dining table (where we used to have spirited discussions). Three of the five were playing games and/or texting—therefore saying nothing verbally. It saddened me to see this happening.”

One family calls this rule “TTT—Timeout from Technology at the Table.”

2. No phones at the restaurant.  “My husband and I have made a deal for date nights,” wrote one wife.  “He is way too plugged in to TV and his phone. Therefore when we are out at restaurants we are not allowed to use our phones unless it is a call from the babysitter.  Also we do not go to restaurants that have televisions because he will be too distracted, and I will be mad that he is not totally engaged.  We all need to find time daily to disconnect from all the information and reconnect with our families with good ‘old fashioned’ conversation.”

Another reader said she and her husband leave their cell phones in the car before they enter a restaurant.

3. No texting someone when you’re both at home—or in the same room.  Don’t laugh—it happens all the time, especially with teenagers.  “My 18-year-old son will text me from upstairs or another room in the house with a question and I refuse to answer him unless he actually comes and asks me,” wrote one mom.

4. No texting or talking about really important personal issues over the phone. This should be done face-to-face, unless it is something that can’t wait.  One reader said, “There is a huge gap in a ‘conversation’ when texting because you don’t really fully understand what that person really means unless you hear the tone in their voice or see their face and a lot can be taken the wrong way, creating bad feelings, etc.”

5. Regulate use of devices on vacations.  Some parents, for example, don’t allow kids to use cellphones while riding in the car, and they limit the use of DVDs.  This forces the family to interact with each other.

For adults, vacations can be a difficult time to unplug from work when email and messages are just a click away.  One reader said of a recent vacation, “It was hard to get ‘unconnected’ even for a few days. But I am having to learn that it’s okay to leave your phone at home and not have to go everywhere with it. Who cares if you don’t reply to every text or email right away?”

Love the one you’re with

Boundaries like these establish a strong family value:  When you’re with someone, that relationship is your priority.  Retraining will take some time if you, your spouse, or your children have become addicted to your devices.  But keeping them in their rightful place will, in the words of one reader, “open up the door to more intimate communication with your spouse and family.”

I also liked the comment from a reader who pointed out, “Anything that becomes a necessity has the ability to become an idol.”  In other words, you can become so attached to your smartphone that it basically becomes the most important thing in your life:  “If you can’t live without a gadget … throw it away.  If a gadget is absorbing most of your leisure time … throw it away!”

“Life is too short.  Let’s not invest what little time we have in meaningless endeavors.”

Copyright © 2012 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.