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6 Tips to Help Parents Put Down Their Phones, Now

10/16/2013 11:29 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
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I am addicted to my phone. I find I am on it WAY too much and not only does that mean I miss out on stuff with my girls, but I am missing out on everything else. HELP!

Bravo for bravely admitting that your love affair with your cell phone may have gotten out of control. You are not alone in your ever-growing involvement with your device. According to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers's Internet Trends report, the average smartphone user checks their device every six and a half minutes, which amounts to about 150 times a day. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll even reported that 50 percent of people aged 18-29 say that they use their phone on the toilet. 

While I have never been a fan of guilt as a motivator, I do believe it can be a decent catalyst for change. Here are my thoughts about some things you may want to try to get a handle on going hands-free more of the time:

1. Take a 5-second pause before you pick up your phone. Ask yourself, Do I need to look at it right now? What will happen if I don't? Listen for the answer. If your only reason for checking is because you feel like it, see what happens when you re-engage with what's in your 3D world.

2. Notice how you feel when you resist the urge to check your phone. Be present with the sensations, whether it's a flutter in your stomach, a tightness in your chest or a tension in your arms. If you simply allow the feelings to be there without doing anything to make them go away, they will pass.

3. Recognize what you're up against, which is the rush of dopamine and feel-good chemicals that wash through your brain when it is stimulated. Acknowledge how hard it is to just say "no" when you hear that beep or ping, knowing that there's nothing more important than connecting with your girls in this moment.

4. Fake it till you make it. You may not be fascinated as your daughter shares the events of her day, but do your best to show that her experiences matter to you. So, when she says, "Today, Caitlyn didn't give Marta a turn on the swing even when Marta had been waiting a long time and even though Caitlyn always hogs the swings and doesn't let anyone else on unless it's Sarah because Caitlyn really likes Sarah and is always nice to her even though Sarah is really mean to everybody else," listen.

Yes, it can be tempting to steal a glance at your phone in the midst of long deliveries of seemingly unimportant information. But if you want your 16-year-old to confide in you when she's worried about how much she's been drinking on the weekends, you'd best pay attention to her when she's a 6-year old telling you about the dramas of her day.

5. Create a routine for checking your phone that diminishes your use when your children are around. Some parents switch off entirely once their kids get home from school, devoting the afternoon and evening to their children and getting back online after their bedtime, if necessary. Others set aside 10 or 15 minutes during family time to check in online -- if legitimately needed -- and work in a highly focused way, even setting a timer so that when that time is up, they keep their promise to their children and shut things off.

6. Apologize to your kids when you get sucked down the black hole of the digital world. "I'm sorry guys -- I'm back." Then, be with them, even if you have to quietly endure withdrawal symptoms from your device.

When my now-23-year-old son was a baby, taking him for a walk in his stroller meant talking about the birds, the trees and the wind. It breaks my heart when I watch parents chatting on their phones, oblivious to their little one. Still, I understand the challenge -- I really do. Our phones offer tremendous stimulation. For parents who are with little ones for hours on end, they can seem like a lifeline.

Still, I encourage you to let your girls know -- by your behavior -- that they don't have to compete with your smartphone for your attention. While it may not be easy to wean yourself from staying tethered to your device, you'll be glad you did.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting. To learn more, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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