These days, few of us could imagine being without our smartphones, laptops and tablets. While we can appreciate the convenience this technology brings, it’s important to consider how it could be impacting our relationships.
Technology is an amazing tool that can help us foster new relationships, stay in touch with loved ones when we’re traveling or living away from home, meet like-minded people and to book tickets for a great date night. But sometimes, the compulsion to check our devices seems greater than our craving for a real-life connection. It’s become common to pick up our phones without even thinking as we sit with our loved ones, missing the opportunity to spend quality time with each other in person.
Recent figures show the average person checks their smartphone 58 times a day. Yet too few of us explore how technology and devices can impact our most important relationships.
The good news is we can draw some healthy boundaries, so that we can continue enjoying stimulating conversations, laughter, tears, hugs, smells and the peaceful delight of sitting quietly together with someone we care about. Here are some positive steps you can take to improve your relationships and habits around technology, so that your devices can keep you engaged – rather than disconnected.
Set up healthy digital habits with your family
As your kids begin to explore social media and online games, start to have regular conversations with them about what their online experiences have been. If they don’t share or say much about it (other than they like it) try to set aside some time to explore their social media platforms. Talk to them about what they look at, what they post online, and discuss the best ways to ensure using social media and online games wisely.
Discuss introducing healthy technology habits for the whole family such as having one digital-free day a week where everyone locks their devices in a drawer before sitting down to a family meal or going out. If you feel that once a week is not enough, discuss putting all devices away every night at 8pm and make sure the whole family agrees with this. You can also suggest different guidelines (and maybe even curfews) for each child depending on their age.
Finally, introduce family-friendly activities that don’t involve screen time, such as baking or cooking, planting herbs or vegetable seedlings, playing board or card games. You could also try exploring crafts like knitting, woodwork, painting, mosaics and drawing or buying some colouring in books.
Reducing your smartphone use is better for your well-being than stopping cold turkey.
Experiment: 4 months after decreasing smartphone use by 1 hr/day, people were happier, less depressed & anxious, and led healthier lifestyles.
Digital moderation beats digital abstinence. pic.twitter.com/BKQsdWFVpk
— Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) April 10, 2022
Go old-school and put your phone away at the table
Resist the urge to sit with your phone on the table and check emails when you’re with company. If you’re expecting an urgent text or email, put your phone away until the time it’s expected, and then excuse yourself for a few minutes.
When you’re with children at the table, see your behaviour through their eyes and imagine how disconnected a conversation feels when mum or dad is checking their Facebook status while asking them about their day. Always give your full attention when engaging and leave absent-minded conversations to the social media ones, where there are no faces on the other side.
Improve your relationship with tech around your partner
You may have noticed that you’ve fallen into the bad habit of paying more attention to your phone than to your partner. Discuss whether either of you feel that technology gets in the way of having a more meaningful, intimate relationship and what you would both like to do to change things. Talk to your partner about setting aside half an hour to an hour every night to have a proper chat without any technology around.
Think about organising a regular date night where you leave your phones off the table and put your devices on aeroplane mode for a set period of time. Other phone-free dates could include going for a walk, a swim, a coffee or a picnic.
It’s also no secret that many people go through their partner’s emails, texts and social media messages. A recent US study by Whistelout showed that 50% of couples have snooped through their partners’ phone, with 38% of respondents claiming that they got into a fight or broke up as a result of the snooping.
Relationships Australia NSW’s Elisabeth Shaw says that snooping is a violation of trust, and while you may be accusing your partner of being sneaky, your actions in doing this are deceitful. “Talk to your partner if you have concerns, she explains. “An honest and open dialogue can save you from behaviour that indicates a lack of trust.”
Set a good example with other loved ones
There’s nothing more frustrating than catching up with a friend or family member who spends the whole time on their phone. Set an example by making a habit of putting your phone in your bag for the majority of the catch-up, and only taking it out occasionally if you must check for urgent calls or messages.
Practise being a good listener and asking follow-up questions to keep the conversation interesting.
Finally, remember that technology and devices don’t need to get in the way of good communication, connecting and bonding. Ensure you keep tabs on it so that habits like checking your phone don’t take priority over checking in on your loved ones.