“Do more things that make you forget to check your phone.”  Author unknown

 

One of the fringe benefits of this pandemic is that it has significantly reduced the frenzy that ruled our pre-pandemic lives. One of the downsides? An increase in screen-time!

Online video meetings have replaced many of our previous in-person gatherings: doctor’s appointments, family events, birthday parties, book clubs, dance and sports classes, playdates for our kids, and even school continues to be at least partly on-line.

Ya’ll know my opinions on screen-time. Of course our devices aren’t inherently evil, but the overwhelming majority of apps and software ARE designed with the intent to get us seriously hooked. One line from The Social Dilemma sums this up perfectly: “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.” So it’s not a stretch when I say to my kids, in exasperation, that they’re acting like they’re on crack when I threaten to take away their iPad or phone.

The vast majority of our family’s conflicts revolve around devices. At times I think it would be so much easier if I just let them gorge on their addiction. My mom even gently questioned me recently, “What’s the harm? At least they’re at home and you know they’re safe.”

Except they’re not safe, and there is a lot of harm. Let’s skip the whole issue of dangerous online predators, and consider how detrimental the digital world can be. Time ON our devices means time AWAY from rich, meaningful activities. This means less time to exercise, invest in our relationships, read, engage in rich conversations, give undivided attention to our loved ones or to be outdoors.

Which is why I went on a quiet retreat with my girls last weekend. Tiana and Chelsea knew there would be no screen time, and WOW did I meet some powerful resistance. But the result of our 47-hour retreat? Sweet, simple success!!!

We went for walks, played games, enjoyed creative time journaling and painting, read by the fire (they even asked me to read my book aloud to them!), roasted marshmallows, listened to our favourite Christmas music, and had lots of cuddles. We ate simple, delicious yet nourishing meals. When they saw that I brought a string of Christmas lights to drape over the mantle, they both actually squealed with joy. We enjoyed every beautiful present moment for the whole weekend, since we weren’t waiting for the next digital fix.

As I write this, my girls’ screen-time has returned to business as usual. Sigh. But I’ve booked our next retreat in 9 weeks, and my goal is to reserve one day a week to device-free-family-time, starting next Sunday.

I look forward to forgetting to check our phones again.

 

Purely Practical

Watch The Social Dilemma. It’s disheartening, enlightening and empowering all at once, and I bet you’ll be inspired to make changes to your and your family’s current consumption of screen-time.

Want to go on your own family retreat? Rivendell Retreat Centre on Bowen Island generously lets guests pay by donation. It is Christian-based yet open to all, regardless of faith.

Join the Conversation

What screen-time issues or solutions have you experienced? What works, and what doesn’t? If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently about your or your kids’ use of devices?

Here are some of my favourite tips to slow down, be mindfully present, and create serenity.

Remember to share your tips too!

 

Breathe. Slowly. Consciously. It’s harder than it sounds. Our attention is so scattered, our environment so full of visual and auditory clutter, that even focusing our minds on a few attentive breaths can be a challenge. Try to get to 10 mindful breaths. It’s harder than you think, but well worth the effort: you’ll feel more calm, less stress, and an overall enhanced experience of the present moment.

 

Turn off text message and email alert sounds on your phone. Each little “ding” is a distraction, taking your attention away from your kid, your spouse, your friend, or just your lunch. Your friends can wait, and if it’s really important, they can give you an old-fashioned phone call to get your attention. (You can allow alert sounds for specific people only, like your kids/spouse etc. if you wish.)

 

A peaceful drive. I have a personal rule when I’m in the car without kids. If I can’t find a song I absolutely love, I turn off the radio. The peaceful silence feels way better than listening to crappy music or invasive radio commercials. Even Chelsea now requests quiet drives: quite the feat for my little talker!!!

 

Set multiple daily reminders on your smart phone. During the day, set a few reminders to be mindful. You can call it “Breathe” or “Be Present” or whatever message works for you.

 

Put visual reminders everywhere. I printed “Breathe” in a couple of lovely fonts, cut them out and taped them around the house. Derek’s uneasy about publicly displaying them (um, in the privacy of our home!) as guests may think it’s weird, so I hide the reminders in cupboards, drawers, and our bathroom. Way I figure, if people in my home are comfortable opening cupboards and gingo in my bathroom, they know me well enough to not think it’s weird! I’ve also put balloon stickers (representing air and breath, but you pick any sticker you want) in the car and around the house. Stickers invite fewer questions, if you’re worried about that sort of thing 🙂

 

Sit down to eat. While you’re at it, take a few deep breaths. Slowing down like this lets us enjoy our food a lot more. An extra bonus is “sitters” eat healthier portion sizes and tend not to snack as much during the day. When we stand, our minds don’t seem to register the food as a real meal, so we eat more at the next meal or in the form of snacks throughout the day. Source: http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eating-while-standing-up

 

Get more “free time.” Just wake up earlier than the rest of the family. You can read, exercise, meditate, or sip your coffee in total peace before the morning chaos begins. If you’re like me and the thought of waking up EARLIER and getting LESS SLEEP sounds crazy, then go to bed earlier so you end up with the same amount of sleep. Whenever I do this, I’m able to be a more peaceful, less-harried mom (read, no yelling) as I help get the family fed, ready and out the door.

 

Leave a few minutes early rather than right “on-time” (or a few minutes late). I have a bad habit of waiting till the last minute before I leave the house. I wash a few dishes, return an email, or throw in just one load of laundry before heading out the door. But whenever I wait until the last minute to leave, I end up freaking out cause I’m running late, and then rushing the kids, snapping at them to hurry up, and kicking myself for the stress I’ve created for all of us. But when I leave a few minutes EARLY, it’s a much more peaceful experience getting to our destination. It’s also a lot safer to drive when we’re not rushed. There’s no temptation to speed, run the yellow light, or tailgate the super slow driver in front of us.

 

Create serenity in the kitchen by keeping the kitchen table attractive and clutter-free. A messy table = stress and mental chaos. But when it’s cleared and I’ve added bright placemats and flowers, the table becomes a serene centre-piece in the kitchen. It’s fun to involve the kids too, collecting pine cones, stones, shells, wildflowers or long grasses to use instead of traditional flowers in a vase.