Tips on Balancing Phone Use and Parenting from ParentTV

We’re happy to offer a new partner in parenting and youth services: ParentTV! This online resource offers short video tips from parenting experts, as well as blog posts and other material, all free with your Chandler Library card. This month’s featured blog post is on finding the right balance between phone use and parenting.

For parents in a digital world, our phones can be our lifeline. Parenting can be incredibly lonely and isolating work. At times, your experience can make you feel distant and disconnected from your peers, your friends, even other parents and your former self. There can be moments of joy and days full of wonder, even long periods of happiness. But, a lot of parenting tasks are mundane and repetitive. Toddlers aren’t known for their witty repartee (except when it’s an accident) and six-year-olds don’t ask how you’re feeling that day. You know who does? Your friend or family member or mother’s group mate or work colleague or other ADULT who is calling or messaging on your phone.

But, if you feel like your phone usage has gotten a bit intrusive or you’re spending more time online than you want to, there are ways to limit your usage and let go of the techno-guilt, once and for all. The first step is figuring out why you’re on your phone in the first place.

Here’s some ideas:

‘Our phones cater to our most fundamental biological drivers. As human beings, we are wired to connect. This is why so many parents have gravitated towards social media,’ says ParentTV expert Dr Kristy Goodwin. ‘For many of us, parenting can be socially isolating. Using social media gives us a sense of relational connection and belonging.’ PREACH. 

‘Another reason we’re biologically attached to our phones is because they give us a sense of control,’ says Dr Goodwin. Nailed it again, Dr Goodwin. When so much of our time is not really our own, it becomes imperative to carve out a little space, even a virtual one, that is ours and only ours, yes?

Every time we post a photo online, we’re curating the image we’re conveying to the world. We’re choosing what to show, how and when to show it, which can feel pretty empowering. ‘Humans have a fundamental desire to feel competent. Using our phones allows us to have control over what we present (usually only the highlight reel) which feeds that sense of competence,’ Dr Goodwin says. We’d also suggest that having those pretty, laughing and having-the-best-time-ever shots in our grid to look back on is sometimes the only proof we have that we ever showered and put on nice clothes.

We are not the first to notice that there can be something of the groundhog day about parenting, right? Sometimes you really just need to break the tedium or even the pleasant same-ness of it all to keep your brain engaged. ‘Our brains are wired for novelty,’ says Dr Goodwin.

So, now you’ve worked out what needs your phone use is meeting, have a think about how else you might be able to meet those needs.
This might be easier said than done, but it’s definitely possible, especially if you think outside the box. For instance, one of our ParentTV staff members vacuums her family home’s main living areas every night. It’s not because she loves vacuuming. It’s because she can pop on a pair of wireless headphones, put her phone in the dock and listen to a podcast while she’s doing it, taking ten minutes out from parenting her high-needs kiddo to get her house in order before the next day. This gives her a little injection of adult smarts and wit for entertainment (tick), mental stimulation/novelty (tick), the ability to exert some control over her environment, which makes her feel less anxious about managing parenting demands (tick, tick), the feeling of having things in order, which translates to competence (tick) and some time to herself (tick). Boom.

Tips for limiting phone use from Dr Kristy Goodwin

  1. Proximity. Move your phone so it’s out of sight and out of mind. 
  2. Remove the shortcut icons for social media apps from your home screen.
  3. Disable alerts and notifications.
  4. Make boundaries and compartmentalize. Identify the times you don’t want to use your phone and try and adhere to these.
  5. Forward thinking. Ask yourself what future you would think of how much you’re on your phone and how much time you’re being present with your kids.

That last one is not about guilting yourself into compliance, by the way. It’s about holding yourself accountable, and also practicing what you preach, because they’re absorbing it ALL. ‘As modern parents, we’re role-modelling healthy screen habits for our kids,’ says Dr Goodwin. ‘The best way to do this is to show them not only how we use technology, but also how we switch it off.’ 

Read the full article at the ParentTV blog, or log in to ParentTV with your Chandler Public Library card number and PIN to view parenting videos like this one on setting limits on screen time for your kids.