When a device becomes your vice

As parents we’re quick to curb the amount of screen time our children get daily. But who’s keeping an eye on us? 

This question never crossed my mind until one day when my 2-year-old was talking to me as I mindlessly scrolled, putting items I never intended to buy into a virtual shopping basket. 

Frustrated with my lack of interest and eye contact, he began yelling, “Wake up, Mom! Wake up!” 

In that moment, I realized my device had become my vice. I was disconnected and allowing a gadget to come between me and my own flesh and blood. My phone had become an extension of me, always with me. 

When I said, “Look at mommy,” my kids were conditioned to look at my photo-snapping phone instead of at me. In my child’s wise-beyond-his-years, 2-year-old mind, I needed to “wake up.” 

Following this wake-up call moment, my husband and I have adopted several guidelines that have helped us put down our devices. 

Keeping them out of reach: We have a docking station/charging area, where our devices live while we’re at home. This has helped us minimize mindless use, since they’re not always in our pockets or next to us. 

I also know exactly where to find my fully charged phone in an emergency or if I need to call poison control, again. Without a landline in our house, I feel this is essential.

Focusing on family time: We have “tech-free” Tuesdays and Thursdays (the alliteration is a convenient reminder) when everything connected to wi-fi is off limits, including our TV. In milder months, we filled these hours with outdoor activities. 

However, now that it’s colder, we cozy up to our fireplace and engage in good, old-fashioned family time and bonding over books and board games. 

Treating it like a reward: That wise 2-year-old is now 4 and his little brother is 3. They earn screen time by picking up their toys or reading a book. We’ve applied the rule to us as parents, too, and now use screen time as a reward for completing housework and other tasks. 

We’ve found it’s a great way to use our time more wisely and to show our kids that we’re walking the talk. If they have to earn their screen time, so do we. 

Doing social media on “our time”: We’re allowed on social media only while multitasking — and this doesn’t mean #regramming while drinking coffee. It means scrolling while on the elliptical, waiting on the kids at daycare or (let’s be honest) on the toilet. 

In other words, never around our children. If we’re less engaged on social media, we hope to lay the groundwork to make our children’s desire for a good math grade greater than their need for “likes.” 

Making it mindful: Awareness about when and how much we’re using certain types of screen time helps us better understand and regulate our usage. 

Apps on certain devices (such as iPhone’s built-in Screen Time) report the time spent on specific apps and websites. Screen Time also lets you schedule downtime, set app limits and other restrictions and even spot trends in usage. 

Built-in whole-house wi-fi tools, such as Xfinity’s xFi app, can help you keep track of and set limits on device use, too. Other tools to check out include Circle, Zift, unGlue, Qustodio and Norton Family.

Strategic phone organization: We’ve also moved social media apps to the final screens of our devices so they’re less apt to be habitual destinations when the phones are unlocked. You can also turn off notifications, such as banners that light up your phone when it’s locked, or badge notifications that leave little red circles reflecting unread items. 

Living IRL: Our devices have made communication easier. However, we’ve never been more disconnected. Our kids are watching and mimicking our every move right now. I would rather they observe us reading books or engaging in conversation than seeing our faces buried in our screens. 

These guidelines have not only encouraged my husband and I to be better role models for our children, but they’ve also helped our family reconnect — and get the housework done, too!

Danielle Venticinque lives in St. Paul with her husband, Don, their two boys and a 75-pound mutt. She writes for Twin Cities Moms Collective and moonlights as an actress. Visit her blog at daniellexxv.com and follow her on Instagram at daniellexxv.