by Catherine Price

Photo credit: martinedoucet, E+ Collection/Getty Images

There’s a lot of concern right now — for good reason — about what spending lots of time on smartphones does to kids’ brains. But what about us parents? Somehow, when we get caught up in worrying about our children’s potential addiction, we fail to recognize our own.

Here are six techniques that will help you be more present with your children — and your life.

1. Get philosophical. As the old adage goes, days are long but the years are short — and that’s especially true when it comes to childhood. Your children are going to be grown up before you know it. Chances are you’re not going to look back and wish you’d spent more of their childhoods on your phone.

2. See yourself from the outside. The next time you catch yourself checking your phone when you’re around your kid, imagine what you look like from your child’s point of view. Is that the behavior you want to be modeling?

3. Ask your child(ren) what they think about your relationship with your phone. They likely have an opinion. And it very well may surprise you in a way that makes you want to change.

4. Deciding that you want to be more present with your kids is one thing; resisting the pull of your phone is another. One tactic is simply to leave your phone at home or in another room — you can’t check it if you don’t have it. Another is to create a speed bump for yourself: set a lock screen image that reminds you to ask yourself if you really want to be checking your phone right now (there are free downloads available at You also may want to download an app blocker, such as Freedom or ( OFFTIME ), and set up lists of sites and apps that you don’t want to have access to while you’re with your kids.

5. Establish “no-phone zones” for the entire family. For example: no phones at the dinner table, or in bedrooms. It can also useful to set up a family charging station, where everyone’s phones have to “sleep” for the night — including yours. Bonus: Decide on a penalty that you’ll pay if your kids catch you “cheating”— it should be small enough that you’ll actually pay it but big enough that the money will add up. At the end of the week, use whatever money has been collected to do something together as a family. Let your kid(s) choose the activity — and leave your phone at home. (Apps such as Flipd and LilSpacecan be used to create family-wide competitions for “most time away from the phone.”)

6. Have alternatives at the ready. If all you have is your smartphone, then it makes sense that you’re going to turn to it when, say, you’re trying to soothe a cranky toddler. But screens beget screens: the more your child gets used to the fast pace and flashy colors of the phone, the more they’re going to demand it. Instead, stock your house (and car and bag) with alternative entertainments — for example, I keep a basket of books and stuffed animals in the back seat of our car, so that when our preschooler starts expressing signs of road rage, I’ve got a screen-free solution.


Catherine Price


Catherine Price is an author and science journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in The Best American Science Writing, the New York TimesPopular ScienceO, The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Timesthe San Francisco ChronicleWashington Post MagazineSlateParadeSalonMen’s JournalSelfMother Jones, and Health magazine, among other publications.




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