PRAC­TICE WHAT YOU PREACH!

HOW MY KIDS IN­SPIRED ME TO CHANGE MY PHONE HABITS

iPhone Life Magazine - - Life & Tech - BY BRI­ANA DICKS

Do you re­mem­ber when the first smart­phone came out? It was lit­tle more than a decade ago. A cou­ple years later, my hus­band told me he wanted to up­grade from his old-school flip phone to an iPhone 4. Let me tell you, I was not on board. I re­mem­ber com­plain­ing that he would be on it all the time—just like all our friends who had al­ready con­verted. Fast for­ward to to­day, and I my­self am a proud user of an iPhone X and am sad to say that my be­hav­iors are prob­a­bly worse than those of my friends all those years ago.

It took me a while to re­al­ize I had a prob­lem. I felt like my phone and so­cial me­dia use was av­er­age and didn't re­quire much change, although I would get the oc­ca­sional twinge of guilt af­ter mind­lessly scrolling through In­sta­gram while my kids were try­ing to get my at­ten­tion. I thought this was just the new nor­mal for par­ents. But then I stum­bled upon A Friendly Af­fair, a blog by li­censed clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr. Katie Penry. As a spe­cial­ist in women and in­fant men­tal health and a mother of two young chil­dren, I felt like Dr. Penry re­ally got the whole par­ent­hood thing.

“Par­ents to­day are in­cred­i­bly wor­ried about me­dia overuse and ad­dic­tion in chil­dren,” wrote Dr. Penry. “Mean­while, there is al­most noth­ing said about par­ent's me­dia use and ad­dic­tion! We need to be ask­ing what these fears say about our own de­pen­den­cies and habits! We are the pi­o­neer­ing gen­er­a­tion.” That was the turn­ing point for me. I knew I couldn't be a pos­i­tive role model for my kids when it came to smart­phones if I hadn't mas­tered them for my­self. As the pi­o­neer­ing gen­er­a­tion, we are pre­sented with the chal­lenge of teach­ing our chil­dren things we didn't grow up learn­ing. Ap­ple re­al­izes we have a prob­lem too. With Ap­ple's new iOS 12 soft­ware update, we have a new Screen Time fea­ture on our iPhones and iPads that is de­signed to help us man­age our tech­nol­ogy ad­dic­tions. What's more, in the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics lat­est me­dia rec­om­men­da­tions re­lease, academy fel­low Jenny Radesky said, “What's most im­por­tant is that par­ents be their child's ‘me­dia men­tor.' That means teach­ing them how to use it as a tool to cre­ate, con­nect, and learn.”

This sounds great, but you (as I did) might still be ask­ing if chang­ing your per­sonal habits is re­ally worth the sac­ri­fice. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, pos­i­tive ver­bal and non-ver­bal in­ter­ac­tion with par­ents is ex­tremely im­por­tant for the brain de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren, es­pe­cially in the first eight years of their lives. So, es­sen­tially, look­ing up is one of the big­gest in­vest­ments in your child's brain growth that you can make. That's crazy! I wanted to know more. I wanted to be bet­ter, for my­self and for my fam­ily. This led me back to Dr. Penry's blog where I found The Look Up Chal­lenge, a free week-long pro­gram I could do at home in un­der 10 min­utes a day, de­signed to help you break the habit of look­ing down at your phone in­stead of around at your friends and fam­ily. At first, I was wor­ried I'd have to give up all the things I love about my phone. I mean, have you ever ex­pe­ri­enced Snapchat fil­ters? They're pretty won­der­ful. I have since learned that it's not only OK to en­joy our smart­phones, it's cru­cial, since we live in a world where we need them. I use my phone for work, to re­spond to time-sen­si­tive emails, and to stay in con­tact with fam­ily.

THE LOOK UP CHAL­LENGE

Here are my take­aways from The Look Up Chal­lenge that I hope will help you use me­dia with in­ten­tion, whether to ben­e­fit your own life or to bet­ter con­nect with your kids. 1. Don’t Worry About Time Lim­i­ta­tions.

I learned that set­ting firm time lim­its for de­vice use of­ten set me up for fail­ure. Dr. Penry helped me see that ac­tive pres­ence when I'm with my chil­dren mat­ters more than min­utes and hours. In­stead of time lim­its, you can give your­self a dif­fer­ent type of bound­ary, like tech-free spa­ces where you will not use your phone. For ex­am­ple, I will not be on my iPhone while play­ing with my kids, breast and bot­tle feed­ing, read­ing, craft­ing or imag­in­ing with kids, on spe­cial fam­ily out­ings, dur­ing meals, and dur­ing the 30 min­utes prior to my kids' bed­time. This sim­ple step of set­ting up tech-free spa­ces is so im­por­tant that the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics has added it to its rec­om­men­da­tions for all fam­i­lies.

“I WOULD GET THE OC­CA­SIONAL TWINGE OF GUILT AF­TER MIND­LESSLY SCROLLING THROUGH IN­STA­GRAM WHILE MY KIDS WERE TRY­ING TO GET MY AT­TEN­TION.”

“LOOK­ING UP IS ONE OF THE BIG­GEST IN­VEST­MENTS IN YOUR CHILD’S BRAIN GROWTH THAT YOU CAN MAKE.”

2. Be Trans­par­ent About Your Me­dia Use.

Be­cause of the Look Up Chal­lenge, I now sim­ply tell my chil­dren what I'm do­ing when I'm look­ing at my phone. This way I'm con­vey­ing to them that I'm not choos­ing my phone over them or ig­nor­ing them. This one has been great for my kids, be­cause they feel like they are a part of my daily in­ter­ac­tions and they un­der­stand why I am on my phone. I just let them know when I need to text daddy, check my email, look up a recipe, make an im­por­tant phone call, pay a bill, etc. This re­ally limited my pas­sive phone use around my kids while mak­ing them feel more in­cluded in my life. 3. Cus­tom­ize Your Phone No­ti­fi­ca­tions to Your Ad­van­tage.

I've dis­cov­ered that tweak­ing cer­tain phone set­tings helps me to be present at im­por­tant times of the day, such as turn­ing off no­ti­fi­ca­tions, re­mov­ing pre­views, and dis­abling sounds for apps. I've found this to be re­ally ef­fec­tive—just make sure you cus­tom­ize your no­ti­fi­ca­tions in a way that will work best for you and your fam­ily. My fam­ily's fa­vorite quick-and-easy change was to set a Do Not Dis­turb sched­ule for fam­ily time on each of our phones every evening from 5–7 p.m. (go to Set­tings > Do Not Dis­turb). This si­lences our texts and no­ti­fi­ca­tions, but we do al­low calls from our Fa­vorites list and any re­peated call­ers (in case of an emer­gency). 4. Stop Look­ing Through a Viewfinder.

An amaz­ing les­son I learned is to be in the mo­ment in­stead of al­ways look­ing for a cute photo to share on so­cial me­dia. If you re­ally think about it, are we re­ally present to our chil­dren dur­ing their big events or are we look­ing at them through a phone screen? Will our chil­dren one day won­der if ev­ery­thing worth cel­e­brat­ing about them is in the phone? Next time a big event, such as a recital, hol­i­day, or birth­day oc­curs in your child's life, make a list of the pic­tures and videos that you re­ally want, get them, and then put your phone away and en­joy the mo­ment and be fully present with your child.

LESSONS LEARNED

Af­ter my seven-day dig­i­tal detox, I felt a lit­tle bit of parental guilt for not as­sess­ing my me­dia use ear­lier in my chil­dren's lives. I saw what a dif­fer­ence it made in just a week! My tod­dler's de­fi­ance had de­creased, and I re­ally did feel like I was get­ting a lot more qual­ity time with my kids. So, here is the good news. No kid is ever ru­ined. Any be­hav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion by a par­ent or care­giver that starts with putting your phone down and look­ing your kids in the eye is ben­e­fi­cial and worth­while. I've learned that it can be as sim­ple as pulling out some books and tak­ing that ex­tra, un­in­ter­rupted time to reap all the great ben­e­fits of be­ing truly at­tuned to your child. As Penry says: “Par­ents act as mir­rors for their chil­dren. Chil­dren learn who they are in the re­flec­tion of an­other per­son's watch­ful gaze.”

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