African family spending time together 

A family of four recently caught my eye at the beach. Lying side by side on a blanket under a cloudless sky, with sand toys and a picnic basket carefully laid out, this family had the makings of a perfect San Diego day. But something was off. None of them were captivated by the beckoning waves or ideal sandcastle-building conditions. With heads bent and eyes glued to four individual smartphones, whatever was happening on their devices had hijacked their time together.

The constant, steady presence of technology is everywhere and it’s here to stay. We tell ourselves it's a tool for staying connected—and to some degree, it is. But if not managed properly, technology can have devastating long-term consequences, interrupting togetherness and disconnecting us from the people we care about most. Here’s how to keep technology from ruining family relationships.

 

HOW WE GOT HERE

The lines between work, school and home life continue to blur as technology powers everything from working remotely and retrieving homework assignments to scheduling family appointments. Constant connection is the new norm, so it makes sense that smartphones are rarely out of reach. It's not uncommon to pick up a call or check messages right in the middle of a conversation. Who among us hasn't said, "Sorry, this is important," while holding up a finger to indicate you'll make it quick? 

It’s true that using screens to entertain is easier for parents than wrangling a toddler through the grocery store or asking her to sit quietly in a restaurant. It feels harmless—there’s plenty of great educational content kids can watch. And sometimes parents just need a minute to complete a task, a thought or (let's face it) to check phones.

 

While there's no denying that technology is valuable and necessary, it's a mistake to believe that constant connection to everything and everyone doesn't come at a cost to our relationships. 

 

WHAT'S HAPPENING BEHIND THE SCREENS

Sitting side by side on the sofa plugged into our screens is not the kind of quality time that relationships need to deepen and grow. According to Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD, therapist and author of The Big Disconnect, technology has changed the basic construct of relationships. “It has triangulated our connections with each other, becoming the ubiquitous third party in our conversations, sometimes connecting us, but often interrupting us and ultimately disconnecting us.”

 

Every time we choose technology over being fully present, we send a message that whatever is happening on our devices is more important than the people we're with. 

 

Children who repeatedly absorb this message learn to seek connection and affirmation elsewhere—often turning to more technology themselves. Over time, this pattern results in lower self-esteem, an inability to self-regulate emotions like boredom or loneliness, and ultimately, a distance between loved ones that isn't easy to overcome.

Kids need uninterrupted family time to learn and grow. Especially important is eye contact, which researchers say is vital for emotional development. We're far more likely to miss the opportunity for eye contact if we're all looking at a screen while waiting for a meal at a restaurant (or waiting for anything at all). These moments for potential connection are moments we can't get back.

For more tips, read “8 Simple Secrets of Happy Families” at www.sandiegofamily.com/parenting/big-kid/8-simple-secrets-of-happy-families

 

HOW TO TAME TECH IN YOUR FAMILY

  1. Create a family philosophy around tech that prioritizes your values and sets boundaries for everyone, not just kids. Limiting screen time as a family helps children feel less like limits are a punishment, but are part of a healthy, balanced life that prioritizes face-to-face relationships.

  2. Model healthy habits that demonstrate what you value. If you're always looking at your phone, kids learn that it must be interesting, fun and essential to look at, and they will follow suit. Putting down your device and giving each other undivided attention sends a powerful message about what matters. 

  3. Verbalize your feelings when tempted to reach for your phone and talk about alternatives to help children learn to identify feelings and healthy habits. Say something like, "Waiting is hard. Let's play a game to pass the time," to show kids how to connect during downtime moments. Ask each other silly questions, play a game or simply enjoy a few quiet minutes together.

  4. Brainstorm how to develop a healthy, balanced, realistic approach to tech use as a family. Schedule no-tech or low-tech time to connect and play together. Provide plenty of offline opportunities to spend time together doing things outdoors such as hiking, walking at the beach or playing at the park. 

 

POWER DOWN TECHNOLOGY TO POWER UP YOUR FAMILY

While technology keeps us connected to the world of work, school and entertainment, it turns our attention away from people who are present. It can disconnect us from the comfort, trust and security that come from strong family bonds.

"The one eternal and incontrovertible truth about families,” says Steiner-Adair, “is that children need their parents' time and attention. Families thrive when parents have strong, healthy relationships with their children."

When families set intentional guidelines around technology use, they grow deep and lasting relationships where each member benefits from real-life loving connections.

 

Jody Lee Cates is the local award-winning writer behind our column “Parenting with Purpose.” Read more of Jody’s articles by putting her name in the search bar.


 

The Super Dentists' Mommy & Me Wellness Series

The Super Dentists' Mommy & Me Wellness Series

  As the spring season blooms, parents in the San Diego area are in for a treat with the launch of The Super Dentists' eagerly anticipated "Mommy & Me" Wellness Series.  Set to kick . . .

Read more

9 Ways to Encourage Peace Between Siblings

9 Ways to Encourage Peace Between Siblings

  Anyone with multiple children (or their own siblings) knows that sibling squabbles are a normal part of childhood. Even so, any type of ongoing or escalated family conflict wears parents down. . . .

Read more

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Gift-Giving Relatives

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Gift-Giving Relatives

It's a common problem. On one side are well-meaning relatives—grandparents, aunties and uncles—who want to shower the kids with gifts. On the other side are parents trying to raise children who . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Simplify Life and Help Your Family Thrive

Parenting with Purpose: Simplify Life and Help Your Family Thrive

This year, consider applying the springtime ritual of cleaning and getting things in order to all areas of your family’s life. Don’t just scrub corners and clear out closets—evaluate how too m . . .

Read more

Not a Perfect Parent? Not a Problem. How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Kids

Not a Perfect Parent? Not a Problem. How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Kids

  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to parent with confidence that our mistakes and imperfections won’t harm our kids? That despite our flaws, they will grow up emotionally healthy and well-balanced? . . .

Read more

Early Childhood Red Flags

Early Childhood Red Flags

Are you getting a sense that your child may be "different" from other children? Here are early childhood red flags that need attention.  “Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4 years old” . . .

Read more

The Key to Strengthening Family Bonds

The Key to Strengthening Family Bonds

  A family of four recently caught my eye at the beach. Lying side by side on a blanket under a cloudless sky, with sand toys and a picnic basket carefully laid out, this family had the makings . . .

Read more

Teaching Kids to Care: The unexpected power of essential life skills

Teaching Kids to Care: The unexpected power of essential life skills

  This is part one of a two-part series. Read part two in our November issue to learn how teaching kids to care for themselves and family naturally extends to caring for community.   It's . . .

Read more

Why and How to Delay Giving Kids a Phone

Why and How to Delay Giving Kids a Phone

When I set out to write this article, I was hoping to provide an antidote to the alarming stories I’d read about kids and smartphones. However, the research really does paint a clear picture. Stud . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Solving the Mystery of Afternoon Meltdowns

Parenting with Purpose: Solving the Mystery of Afternoon Meltdowns

Ever wonder why kids seem to unleash their negative emotions as soon as they come home from school or daycare? A local dad (who wishes to remain anonymous) describes what many parents experience: . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Healthy Risk-Taking Helps Kids Thrive

Parenting with Purpose: Healthy Risk-Taking Helps Kids Thrive

It's a fact of life for every parent. Part of our job is to reduce risk and ensure the safety of the tiny humans placed in our care. After all, risks seem scary, right? Even the dictionary equates r . . .

Read more

How and Why to Develop  Growth Mindset in Kids

How and Why to Develop Growth Mindset in Kids

Is intelligence something you’re born with or something that develops? Is failure an opportunity to learn and grow, or something that impedes success? How a parent answers these questions greatly . . .

Read more

How to Make a Family Technology Contract

How to Make a Family Technology Contract

We raise our kids to be polite and respectful in person so why wouldn't we stress those same values in the online environment? A digital citizenship contract will help spell out your expectations of . . .

Read more

Turn Words Into Action: Create a Family Action Plan for Change

Turn Words Into Action: Create a Family Action Plan for Change

For families who want to be part of the change to end racial inequality, there's never been a better time to create a family action plan. A thoughtful plan, built around empathy and compassion, equi . . .

Read more

Give Your Family the Gift of Laughter

Give Your Family the Gift of Laughter

I was born on April 1, so I know a thing or two about humor. April Fools’ Day jokes and gifts make celebrating my birthday an adventure in laughter. I once received a large box of dirt topped with . . .

Read more

Parenting with Purpose: Raising Resilient Kids

Parenting with Purpose: Raising Resilient Kids

Teaching children how to do difficult things comes with parenting. We coach and encourage kids through frustration, tears and bursts of anger as they learn to tie shoes, write their names and ride a . . .

Read more

Be Family Informed – Sign up for our Newsletters below!

Subscribe