I have a confession to make: I LOVE TV. I love to get sucked into shows, grow attached to characters, and make fun of people for not choosing a house because of the light fixtures. I cried when Parenthood ended because it felt like I had lost a family friend. I could sit on my couch all day with a comfy blanket and some good snacks, binge-watching my favorite shows. I wouldn’t get bored, I would have no desire to talk to anyone, and I probably would not bother to get dressed.
I obviously rarely (get to) do that because I’m busy with my kids, hubby and career. Le Sigh.
And while I’m confessing, I might as well share that I have a slight addiction to my phone. I tend to check Facebook regularly, obsessively refresh my email, and play FreeCell.
I have lived happily in ignorant bliss about my addiction to screens until a few weeks ago when my husband finally called me out on it.
We were sitting on the couch, and I was checking my friend’s FB post about something mildly interesting. I vaguely heard my husband say, “I hate that stupid phone. Whenever you’re on it, you never hear me. I feel like you’re not even here right now”. My first response was, “Uh-huh.” Cuz I wasn’t listening to him; I was so absorbed in some random person’s comments on a Humans of New York post. And then he kicked me (gently) and said it again. This time I heard him (because I looked up when he kicked me). And while my husband is kinda needy in the attention department, his words shook me. Was it really that bad? Am I truly ignoring my family to scroll through my FB feed?
This conversation was timely because I recently wrote a blog post about the negative effect of electronics on communication styles as a family. My husband threw ironic looks my direction because it turns out that while I’m pretty good at limiting our kids’ screen time, I struggle much more with myself. And it was affecting everyone.
So in that moment, I bravely put my phone down and acknowledged that I had a problem (“You’re right, babe, maybe I do use this thing a little too much.”) I boldly came up with a plan to limit my screen time.
Then, like any true addict, I immediately started making excuses.
Well, I can’t start tomorrow, because I have to plan meals for the week, and I am posting for my fitness group, and I have to keep tabs on my baby nephew…
I also started trying to find ways around the rules, like: checking work email doesn’t count. Scrolling through FB while I’m using the bathroom shouldn’t count. Watching “Paw Patrol” with the kids counts as family time, right? What if I’m on my phone while watching TV? Does that count twice? I felt very overwhelmed and dropped the idea altogether.
But now that the seed was planted, I noticed that I was awfully absorbed by screens. It was embarrassing. I realized sometimes my kids would call my name two, three or even four times until I responded. I found myself counting down to bedtime so that I could collapse in front of the TV and catch up with Kimmy Schmidt and Mindy Lahiri. I started to wonder, what are my priorities here?
And it’s not that I’m glued to screens around the clock. I am pretty strict about no screens during meals, play time, bath time, story time, bedtime, etc. But it’s those in-between times when we are all just hanging out, or driving somewhere together in the car, that I find myself vulnerable to screen distraction.
So I decided I needed to make a change. I revisited my bold statement from earlier of limiting my screen time, and outlined some basic and achievable goals.
1) Limit myself to 1.5 hours of cumulative screen time after the kids go to bed.
2) No phone use at all whenever we were all home together, whether that be in the morning before school or in the evenings before the kids go to bed.
This was hard, especially in the beginning.
I realized that I needed fail-proof strategies to help myself stick to the plan. I now leave my phone in my bedroom, and only check it when I go in there. I also silence it so I don’t feel compelled to check text messages instantaneously (For me, text messages are the gateway drug to all other phone activities). I even decided to only check/post on FB once a week, and deleted the app from my phone (gulp).
My husband has been very supportive of this, and together we have also cut back on our TV time quite a bit. Some nights we don’t watch anything at all, we just talk and plan our week, or else we set a time when the TV gets turned off for the night.
And while it’s still not perfect, here’s what I have noticed when I DO set screens aside:
*My kids’ behavior has improved, because they are not acting out to get my attention
*My husband and I have more meaningful and engaging conversations
*I read more books for fun, which is something I love but felt I never had time for anymore
*The less I use my phone, the less I need it
*I am more productive in the evenings
Things that have suffered since I started this experiment:
*Communication with my family and friends. I no longer return texts promptly, I don’t always catch everyone’s FB posts/pictures, and I am not as involved in my fitness and mommy social groups.
But I’ve decided that’s ok, at least for now. My family is happier and I feel more engaged with them, which at the end of the day is what it’s all about, right?