Learning to unplug

I think I’m addicted to my phone.

There I said it.

But it’s alright, because looking around, I can see we all are a little bit hooked. And that makes it okay? Doesn’t it?

In truth, a few things have happened of late which have made me feel somewhat uneasy about my smartphone obsession; it’s certainly been a wake  up call that something has to change.

First up, I read Matt Haigs book, ‘Notes on a nervous planet’. (Loved it btw). Matt certainly highlights the current climate and long terms effects of the use of social media and technology at our fingertips. It’s not all bad for sure, but the parts about people of the future looking back at this generation… they cut right to the core of the problem. 

You only need to look around the poolside while parents are ‘watching’ their kids swimming lessons to know we are drowning in some kind of epidemic.

Four People Holding Mobile Phones

Secondly, I’ve noticed my ability to leave my phone untouched for any amount of time has plummeted. It’s always there, within a foot of my person. Home button ready to be tapped, notifications off but tempting me in to see what I’ve missed in the last three minutes. 

I leave it in the kitchen, only to return shortly after to make a brew / feed the cat / fetch a snack for the kids, and find myself paralysed stood in the kitchen, scrolling Instagram and completely forgetting what I came in the room to do.

Close up portrait of a young woman typing a text message on mobile phone

I ashamedly confess I have been known *ahem* to barely open my eyes in the morning before reaching over to grab my phone from my bedside table, to check in on last nights social media post feedback. Before saying good morning to the cat, to my daughters, or even to my husband (who incidentally is awake as proven by the telltale glow coming from his side of the bed).

My brain may tell me to reply to that message from my friend, but my muscle memory wants to go through it’s well worn cycle as I unlock my screen…the gram, twitter, Gmail, Outlook, WordPress, one more hop back to insta (my last remaining vice), and before I know it, friend A’s message just fell out of my brain.

Selective Focus Photography of Woman Using Smartphone Beside Bookshelf
“I’m just emptying the tumble drier dear…”

But the real pivotal moment, (the one that made me feel like the worst Mum ever), was the morning in which my seven year old daughter not only told me to ‘Stop staring at my boring old phone’ (oh she’s dropped that one plenty of times and I justified it by telling her and myself that Mummy doesn’t have to give you 100% of her attention all the time), but she actually started to cry. Real proper sad tears right there on my bed.

Heart and daggers springs to mind.

The thing is, as she sobbed that it isn’t fair, because ‘we tell them not to spend too long on their tablets’ (true) and that she ‘hates it because I don’t talk just stare at the stupid phone’ (also true, although anyone who knows me can verify I certainly can and do like to talk) I had to admire her perfectly articulated reasoning, and accept that she makes a valid point.

In that moment, I declared her to be absolutely right, and said that as a family, we (by we I mean Dad Muddling Through and I) need to have more screen free time. Time to focus on what’s going on in the four walls, not the Daily Mail app, the Weather radar or the ASOS sale. And so, from that moment on I committed to myself that a few things had to change.

The digital detox box

First up, in honour of Tigs and as a visual prompt and physical barrier for all of us, we turned an old shoe box into a Digital Detox Box. It’s a place for phones, tablets, remote controls, iPads to go when we as a family deem it needed. We jazzed it up with some wrapping paper and stickers, and it remains in the kitchen so when anyone makes the suggestion, we can all be seen to have a technology amnesty together.

Woman In Grey Shirt Holding Brown Cardboard Box
“We’re going to need a bigger box”

I’d love to think we could set up some kind of system – Weekend afternoons perhaps or Friday night for DMT and I, that’s all yet to be decided. The principle was to be clear to Tigs that we had taken on board what she said, and would act on it.

Making the bedroom a no phone zone

We all know that bed isn’t a place to be winding down with a scroll of blue light and often all too infuriating and stimulating reading of news reels, social media feeds and shopping sites. It also goes without saying that waking up to opening curtains and seeing the clouds roll by is a far healthier start to the day than seeing what must have item the influencers Instagram deems worthy, have pushed into your subconcious.

We had once before declared a rule of no phones in bedrooms, and I revelled in it’s holistic wonder for all of a week or so before it went completely out of the window again. That was until that tears morning, ugh.

Silver Macbook on White Bed Comforter
“Which one of these does not feature in my morning routine. Clue; It’s the cake”.

Of course it’s pretty grim to imagine your kids skipping into your room to see you, only to be greeted by a silent zombie like state, physically declaring what’s inside a small piece of plastic and metal is way more important / interesting than you.

And so we have reinstated the no phone zone thing. We leave our phones in the office at night and have actually managed a good morning to each other. I’m committed that this time it’s for good, and the chargers have been uninstalled from our bedside tables.

Plus, it makes for more reading of books like Matts.

Changing habits

Obviously, we are not saints, and with both Dad Muddling Through and I working from home and juggling home and family life, as well as embracing the guilt free permission to indulge of a little bit of the things we want to every now and again too, technology will continue to be a part of our family life.

But as always, it’s all about balance. About communicating properly as a family and teaching the girls about life beyond a mobile phone. Instead of staring at Tesco grocery online shopping for half an hour, take them to the shops. Instead of silently sloping off to a ‘more interesting place’, being present with them a little more whole-heartedly.

The thing that has to change are the small habits; beginning with the increase in time spent physically away from our phones. Leaving it behind on the school run, out of the bathroom at bath times, keeping it well away from the sofa on Friday night kebab and movie night (high times) and making an effort to not see the passenger seat on a long journey as a green light to zone out into the internet for the duration of the journey.

Of course it’s not always easy being switched on and engaged as a somewhat isolated stay at home Mum; nor a Dad wanting to switch off from a stressful day at work and a noisy household of girls. But change is coming – soon those gaps in my brain craving adult stimulation will be buzzing with the pulls and pressures of being back at work, and there won’t be as much time to ‘vacate’ into cyberspace in our new routine which will require all hands on deck. I certainly expect my screen time numbers to plummet when I’m working three days a week, rather than kicking around the house on my own waiting for the nursery pick up.

I’m sure the family battles over technology usage are only just beginning; with Tigs having recently discovered gaming, The Mouse being obsessed with taking and looking at photos (like Mother like daughter) and the teen years being, frighteningly, not too far away.

In the years to come, technology will undoubtedly change. The battles with the girls and their usage and expectations will certainly change, but for now, it’s us as parents, as role models, as phone addicts, who need to change. We can try, can’t we?

x MMT

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