Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Saving Your Relationships From Death by Cellphone

Angels baseball pitcher Jared Weaver was quoted in an article in the OC Register yesterday by sports writer Jeff Fletcher yesterday that things are very different in the Angels clubhouse before games now than they were when he came up to the majors in 2006. Players used to talk, bond and communicate with each other freely. Now people are, "checking all their stuff on their phones." Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor has made a rule asking his team to not use phones for 30 minutes before all regular season games. It is hard to regulate adults, but clearly cell phone use is impacting relationships not only on sports teams but also at work, between couples and within families.

It's great to stay connected, but when are we too connected to our cellphones and not connected enough in person, live with the people we live with? How can we put some limits on our phone habits so we are intentionally present in our relationships? What rules can we set with our children and teens, and what can we negotiate to clear sacred space for our relationship with family and close friends?

In the Sunday, March 22 edition of the New York Times, writer Bruce Feiler focused on cellphones in his This Life column. Fieler reminds us that despite children and teens having cellphones, you are still the parent. I like to remind parents in family counseling that they are the co-architects of their families and can take bold moves to make families stronger and better places to be. Cellphone habits can deteriorate the quality of your family relationships without your action and intentionality.

Here are a few of his excellent suggestions:

1. Put some limits on when phones are used. Children and adults may need to park and plug in their phones with a curfew on phone use. The Obamas don't allow their girls to use cellphones during the school week, for example. Park the phones in a place where you can monitor. Several studies have shown that teens with their phones in their rooms sleep less.

2. No cell phones at family times---mealtimes, connecting times, etc. Stack the cell phones up in a visible spot if you are out to eat together.

3. Car rides are important connecting and bonding time. Some families have a no cellphones rule for the first 20 minutes of any car ride. Remember the games we played in cars going on road trips when we grew up?

4. Do more electronics free activities with each other, like bike riding, hiking, camping, swimming, surfing and walking.

5. Teach your kids to read texts twice and when it is okay and not okay to text. I want parents to teach their children that texts are fine for brief data transmission like a time to meet, but not a place to work through relationship conflicts because it is full of miscommunication possibilities and is no substitute for brave in person discussions about emotionally charged topics. For example,
it's fine to make plans to meet at 5:00 for the movie, but don't break up with someone by text.

6. Keep talking with your children about bullying, sexting, gossiping and other potential cellphone mistakes and the possible harm that can be done. Remind them not to send out anything that they wouldn't want broadly distributed.

7. Do unto yourself. Make sure you abide by the same limits and set times when you put your own cellphone away. I often have children and teens complain to me in counseling about parents who can't stop being on their phones.

8. Don't interrupt special moments with your partner or your child to answer the phone.

Taking an active leadership role in your family is important for making sure that your family relationships don't get fragmented by cellphone use. Whether you're out on a date night, a walk with your partner, or interacting with your children, it's of crucial importance to the relationship to be engaged and fully present. This shows the other person that they are more important than anyone or anything else in the world right now, and that feels wonderful. Isn't that attention from those we love the thing we all crave and need so deeply?

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