I recently looked up from my phone after a quick cruise through Facebook, Goodreads, my email accounts, and a couple of websites. My baby son was watching me from across the living room in silence. When our eyes met he smiled, and I smiled back. But my heart stung a little because I realized that as soon as I’d latched onto my phone, I forgot about him. My body was there in the room with him, but my attention had wandered far away. Sure, it was only for a few seconds—or was it minutes?—but I forgot him.
Time at home sometimes feels slow and monotonous, and a smartphone takes the edge off of the boredom. But what’s the cost of using technology to escape—especially to escape from home? And who pays the price?
Like trading diamonds for gravel, we’re trading thousands of interactions with our little ones, teens, spouses, parents, etc. for time on our devices. Our homes fill with the beeps, buzzes, blare, and glare of multiple screens, replacing conversations, eye contact, creativity, and play—the warmth of really being together. If we allow it, technology will weaken our family relationships, one swipe at a time. We need some alternatives to those glowing escape hatches.
Becoming a Tech-Wise Family
In his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch offers this advice for families who want to spend less time on their devices and more time together:
“Fill the center of your life together—the literal center, the heart of your home, the place where you spend the most time together—with the things that reward creativity, relationship, and engagement. Push technology and cheap thrills to the edges; move deeper and more lasting things to the core.”1
When TVs and smartphones are the most visible and accessible “activities” in your home, it’s unlikely you or your children will choose anything else. So what changes can you make to “the heart of your home”—for most families, that’s the living room—that will encourage meaningful connection rather than mindless scrolling? Here are a few ideas:
- Put a box of board games and playing cards in your living room. Don’t let the game box go stale—stoke your children’s interest by buying new games every now and then.
- Start a challenging jigsaw puzzle that will take several days or weeks to complete. Puzzles provide wonderful opportunities for family teamwork and conversation. But beware: puzzles can be as addicting as Candy Crush!
- Do you own musical instruments? Display them so your kids will reach for them instead of the TV remote. If you don’t have instruments, consider buying recorders, a harmonica, guitar, ukulele, or some simple percussion instruments. With a little searching, you can often find old pianos for under $100.
- Collect coloring books, sketch pads, and craft supplies and store them in a handy spot. Many children also enjoy books with step-by-step instructions for drawing simple pictures.
- Set out family photo albums from your childhood, youth, wedding, etc. Your kids will study them with amazement. Get ready: they will bombard you with questions that will lead to wonderful conversations!
- Showcase eye-catching picture books in strategic places (i.e. where your children are sure to find them!).
- If you have a young reader, try setting out children’s joke books on your coffee tables. Author Rob Elliott has written a series of joke books that will transform couch potatoes into comedians in no time!
Like any change, shifting your family’s focus away from screens will take time. It may require drastic measures: for example, requiring a daily break from all screens to encourage you and your kids to explore other ways to spend your time. I wish you and your family many happy hours of screen-free fun, conversation, and creativity!
1. Crouch, Andy, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017): 71.
Dr. Bethany Bowen-Wefuan (Ph.D., Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies) is a teacher, writer, wife, and mom. She has taught German language and literature at Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the University of Missouri. As an educator, one of her greatest pleasures is seeing students cultivate a joyful curiosity in words (German and English!) and the world.