In my practice this question popped up from one of my clients. It’s a common theme in today’s modern times of fast paced living and immediate gratification. I thought it would be really helpful to share here...
“I really want to get out of the rut of numbing myself through social media / iPhone use. The kids are starting to berate me when I’m on my phone and I don’t hear what they’ve said. I use the phone to escape the day to day a bit and get into thinking about the past and then the future”...
As soon as I read this question what became apparent to me is how this client is struggling to be present with her children, and that is because right now it makes sense for her not to be present.
It reminded me of parts of my own childhood. Now I love my Mum to bits, but I do recall growing up that ‘her iPhone’ was housework. There were countless times I just wanted her to be present with me, but her very real-looking, very genuine excuse was that she had cooking, cleaning, tidying etc. to do. There never seemed to be an end to it. We can all find something to distract us from being present with our kids, but Smart phones are a hot favourite right now.
Of course when we’re in that state of mind, it seems very real that what we are doing IS important of our attention, and we can’t see that the urgency or distraction we’re experiencing is a thought created reality. I also noticed my Mum’s tendency to do this would become worse when she was, what I now see as an adult, struggling with life.
I have a depth of love, connection and presence with my children way beyond how I experienced them 10 or even 5 years ago. When I started to recognise those moments with them of being present I couldn’t help but want more. It was like a love drug. I love people. I am endlessly curious about how others see life. It is especially delicious to find that out from my children, and it can happen at the most random times, so being as present as I can with them is hugely important to me.
Of course there are times when I am busy and I say it. So if for example one of my kids is talking to me and I’m truly busy I’ll say something like: ”Do you need me to really listen to you properly, because if so wait 5 minutes until I finish xxx and I’ll give you my full attention, or you can continue now but I’ll only be half listening.”
Our children are looking for what we’re all looking for, whether they or we are aware of it or not. That quiet place where feel deeply connected to ourselves, which can only be found when we are present. They learn that from us, just like walking and talking.
I notice that the more deeply I see what creates my psychological experience the less distractions I want to pull me out of my own life.
There is no problem in thinking about the past or the future, as long as we are aware that when we do we are not actually feeling the uplift or dread in turning our thoughts either way, but still experiencing thought right now in this present moment. The problem is not in the thinking itself, but in believing that the content of what we’re thinking about is what is creating our feeling in the moment, because when we do and it feels pleasant or unpleasant we associate it with the thing we’re thinking about e.g. past/future memory or projection and not the way we’re thinking about it in that moment.
Of course there are some common sense boundaries that you can put in place and having 2 children with phones has instigated this, and I might say has made us reflect on our own phone use behaviour.
Think about your own ‘common sense boundaries’.... it’s really no different when it comes to phones. Just like I wouldn’t have chocolate cake for breakfast or let the kids run around on the carpets with muddy boots.
Here are ours, (they might not work for you or your family, depending on the age of your kids and your particular lifestyle). Remember you need to model the behaviour you want to see in your own children’s mobile phone use, even if that seems years away right now:
• All phones are turned off from 7pm in the evening until 8am in the morning, and are kept together in a drawer downstairs, (it makes it easy to check they are all there when we go to bed).
• No phones go upstairs, (in fact we don’t have any ‘technology’ upstairs’ including iPads, laptops, TV’s etc.). It means we get more visibility on phone usage downstairs in the living area too. There are other numerous reasons, a lot of which are health related, as to why phones in bedrooms are a bad idea.
• For my kids, phones are a means of communication when they’re out and about, not with us, so we can keep in contact. They also use them for arranging to see friends. They take their phones when they leave the house, and then when they are in the house they tell me if they need to contact friends etc. and will then spend a short amount of time on their phone. We also use the ‘Find my iPhone’ function so we know where they are if we need to check, (which is rare) are when they are out.
• We discourage social media use and browsing for the sake of it, (the same as having the TV on for the sake of it, and not because there is nothing specific they want to watch). My youngest doesn’t have social media access at all.
• NO-ONE answers phones at mealtimes or leaves them within the vicinity of where we eat.
• Special family occasions like days out are times to be present with each other. Either my husband or I will take a phone, just for a point of contact, but it’s not used. The kids are not required to bring theirs.
• Out of habit and politeness when there are 2 or more of us hanging out together and we go to use our phone, we tell the other members of the family what we’re doing – e.g. “I’m just looking up the weather today to know what to wear”.
• We’re all aware that phones are really incredibly useful and can be used for looking up all sorts of things, BUT there is an inbuilt culture in our house that they are not as interesting or as engaging as being present with each other. I can browse on my phone and check social media (this is very much linked to my work), but try only to do that when I’m on my own, and even then I’m conscious of setting limits. Phones can equally reduce the quality of your life, if you let them.
Is this post helpful? I’d love to hear your thoughts or your strategies for creating a family life where you cultivate healthy communication.