Places for Families to be Together in Tech-Free Zones

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The family had just sat down for a nice dinner together. Everyone was starting to eat when the familiar chirping sound of a smart phone went off. The family quickly looked at one another to see whose phone it was when the father realized it was his phone. He looked at the phone and got up from the table to answer the call.

A short time later, a different phone chirps and the daughter quickly checks the new Instagram picture her friend just sent her. It doesn’t take long before the daughter has abandoned her food and is furiously sending out texts to her friends. The mother looks around at what had been a family meal and continues eating, until her phone chirps.

This situation can be an all too familiar one for families in the modern era of instant communication where everyone seems to have a smart phone nearby. Still, the impact of using smart phones anytime and anywhere are taking a toll on the functioning of families. There needs to be a balance between the benefits that smart phones provide and the needs of families to have time to interact with one another, in person.

An option for families to consider to help them strike a balance is to establish tech-free zones. These zones offer children an alternative to an environment dominated by technology. The zones allows children to experience the benefits of having in-person interactions without technological distractions.

A good place for families to try out a tech-free zone is during dinner time. Dinner is one of the few meals that families eat together. Families that regularly eat dinner together tend to have healthier lifestyles and their children do better academically.

One of the reasons family dinners have such a positive impact is that there is time for family members to have sustained interactions. While it can be hard to get children to respond to questions about their day, parents can get the discussion started by talking about something funny that happened during the day. Once the conversation gets started, children will often chime in with their own anecdotes.

Another place to establish a tech-free zone is in the bedroom. Children who sleep with their smart phones next to them are far more likely to be awoken by texts or alerts in the middle of the night. In addition, if children look at or respond to those texts, the blue light emitted from the smart phones further disrupts their sleep. Children who have interrupted sleep are more irritable and inattentive than children who get a good’s night’s sleep.

Parents should sit down with their children and talk to them about a time when all smart phones and technology is turned off at night. At that time, the smart phones need to be turned over to the parents so they can be charged overnight and be ready to go in the morning.

A final place for a tech-free zone is in the car. Some of the best conversations can occur in the car but they won’t happen if everyone is on their smart phones. When children aren’t distracted in the car, the conversations can develop more depth where true socio-emotional growth can occur.

Families should consider adopting tech-free zones in their daily lives. These zones can allow families to develop better communication with each other. Take a moment and see if dinner can be a time to catch up with your family and not all of the other social connections beckoning on the phone.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on April 29, 2016

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