I once asked a group of young middle school aged girls how they practiced patience with their smartphones. One girl proudly announced that she shows patience as she waits for the iMessage bubble indicating the other person is typing to display her newly received message.
For many of us adults, this may also be the extent of patience we can exert while messaging.
Foundationally, we know that good relationships require healthy communication. Somehow though, in the past decade of smartphone domination we began believing healthy relationships require always available, instant communication.
With this belief, we’ve allowed our response time to diminish from days or hours to now minutes – even seconds!
Why this is a problem
Once we settle in this land of always available, instant responses our surrounding community will expect, if not demand, we remain in this place.
Living as a captive to digital communication is a dangerous place to be. This habit is not only stressful and emotionally unhealthy for us but for those who we share physical presence with as well. Our children, friends, and family often stand front row to our distraction. While they attempt to verbally communicate and tangibly connect, we pretend we are present and listening while still always available to someone else on our phone.
Take for example a father or mother who just came home from work and the children excitedly begin to recant the details of their day. The parent feels the buzz of an incoming text and then the reflex to respond immediately. The parent takes the phone out, responds to the text, then returns attention back to the child. This behavior has come to be known as phubbing.
This seems harmless enough because of it’s current prevalence but the child is not without consequence. They begin to feel second best, less important, and overlooked because the parent’s response time takes priority over them.
Why this needs to change
It’s easy to recognize the parent has full responsibility to change their behavior in this scenario. Immediate response times, however, is more than honoring another person’s convenience with a speedy reply. Immediate responses become a psychological routine – a habit that occurs subconsciously. One that, regardless of what is going on around us, will cause us to respond with robot-like-reflexes to that incoming message.
Even worse, distraction by immediate responses are contagious. Consider when you are in a conversation with a friend and they pull out their phone to respond to someone else. Chances are, you will retrieve your own phone and look to see if there is anything novel or necessary to respond to.
And, this behavior is from adults who have grown up with face to face relationships and know their value in life! Our children, on the other hand, are learning digital communication as their primary method for relationships. How much more will they neglect face-to-face interactions if they are hyper focused on being always available for instant responses on their phones?
We need to set a new standard
If we desire to raise children who live different than the trajectory currently mapped out for them (lonely, depressed, anxious, fearful, lack purpose, etc) we must change our behavior first.
Here are ways you can begin to alter your response time:
1] Review who you text with most often.
Speak to these friends/family/coworkers and explain you are intentionally striving to delay your response time. Ask them to call if they need immediate attention, otherwise it may take you several hours or even a day to respond.
2] Identify defined times to respond, then respond in these batched times.
These times should be when you are generally alone or are not neglecting another person’s attention. If you have to excuse yourself for 5 minutes every hour to respond, then do so. It’s better than being interrupted every 5 minutes.
3] Keep the phone on silent, out of sight, or off your physical body when spending face to face time with another person.
Attempt to go at least 30-60 minutes at a time without checking or using your phone when spending one-on-one time with someone. This means that quick run-in at the grocery store that lasts 5 minutes should NEVER involve your phone.
4] Practice respectfully excusing yourself when you need to respond to a call or text while face to face with another person.
In this, you acknowledge and apologize for the distraction while retaining respect and value in the relationship.
5] Utilize monitoring/limiting software (iOS 12), services (AT&T Smart Limits/Verizon Smart Family etc.), devices (Circle), or apps (Moment) to recognize and change the amount of time spent on your phone messaging.
If you lack all self-restraint or cannot seem to create new healthy habits, these options may help.
Regardless the children’s age, they watch, observe, and digest every interaction you have with your phone. They are learning what it looks like to be in relationship and to be present. You cannot blame “technology” for the broken ways children communicate today. If your relationship with them always looks like your distraction and half-attention because of your phone, you can guess where they are learning the behavior.
This cycle has to stop. A new standard for healthy, less instant communication must emerge. It starts with you, the brave parent.
We all need true, undistracted presence in our relationships. Without this, only loneliness and division can grow.