Distracted by the *Ding!*
by Amy Diller

Ding! Text message. Ding! Social media notification. Ding! New email. Ding! Work call. Ding, ding, ding. The very devices that literally put a whole new world at our fingertips have also increased the level of noise in our lives and blurred the boundaries between family time, work, school, activities, and friendships. The urge to make ourselves continually available creates noise that keeps us from real connection with others, especially our children. 


You know you should limit kids’ screen time in order to encourage healthy development. But what about your own screen time? What boundaries do you have in place for yourself so you can set the tone for your family and slow down the madness 24/7 availability creates in your life? We’ve talked before about setting a healthy rhythm for your family – making choices to purposely slow down by saying no to some things in order to tame your calendar and make space for less stress. Now it’s time to address digital distractions, especially your cell phone, that vie for your attention so you can be fully present with your kids and less noise-driven every day. 


Why are screens so appealing? Adults are just as addicted to their phones and tablets as kids. Think about it. How often do you check for notifications even though you already looked at the screen a few minutes ago? Statistics gathered over the past few years indicate that Americans check their phones an average of 96 times a day. 96 times! When we find notifications, such as new followers or likes on social media, our brains experience an uptick in dopamine, one of the feel-good hormones. Because of this reward, we continue revisiting what made us feel good in the first place. But is it healthy? 


We also believe that we need to be available 24/7. Because of this, our phones are never far away. Even when you’re not actively using them, they are likely within reach. Although parents set rules for their children about screen time and when and where phones can be used, they often don’t follow the same rules. That’s not to say adults should have the same guidelines as kids, but if you can never do anything without your phone because you might miss a call, a text, or the opportunity to take a picture, if the very idea of being without your phone makes you break out in a cold sweat, then it’s time to set some limits for yourself.


Living life behind a phone has some real negative repercussions. You can develop a habit of divided attention. You might think you can multitask, but realistically your brain can only attend to one thing at a time. A distracted parent is not a fully present parent. Think about what it communicates to your kids when they’re talking to you, and you’re checking your phone at the same time. What about when you watch your child’s activities from behind your camera or while scrolling through your phone to pass the time? All of us crave connection, face-to-face, with eye contact. We want to be seen. Your kids desire and deserve your undivided attention, but if you’re overusing technology, they’ll come to learn that not having your full attention is normal.


So what can you do to decrease the noise technology creates and become a less distracted parent?


  1. First of all, keep track of how often you reach for your phone or think about doing it while your kids are around. For a reality check, physically make a tally mark on a sheet of paper each time. Scrolling social media, going through emails, sending and responding to texts, making phone calls while driving your kids somewhere…every time you catch yourself, write it down. You may be surprised by how often your phone is a distraction. 
  2. Set regular times to shut your phone off. Don’t just move it into another room; actually, shut it down. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but over time you’ll learn to appreciate the break. Being without your phone will become a more normal thing. You’ll discover that responding to texts and calls can wait.
  3. Experience an activity with your family without your camera. If you like to document every part of your life with photos, this could be a tough one. Taking pictures is not a negative thing, but many people have lost the ability to create memories through mental pictures and to enjoy being fully engaged in the moment. There’s a beautiful and profound simplicity in this practice.
  4. Create technology-free family time. Often families gather around the television to watch a show or a movie, using their devices at the same time. Instead of making this your go-to activity, trade it for a board game, assembling a puzzle, making crafts, playing outside, reading – any hobby your family finds enjoyable. You may even discover a new activity everyone likes to do.
  5. Avoid using your phone during certain times of the day. There are key opportunities for you to initiate a conversation with your kids, like meal times, driving in the car, and bedtime. Not only do your kids want to talk about their day, but they also want to ask you questions too. These times present wonderful opportunities for faith conversations as well.


The things we’re able to do with our phones are amazing, but left unchecked; they can create noise that distracts attention from the most important things. It creates a stress in our lives that we don’t always recognize until we take steps to change our habits. We certainly don’t want our kids to feel like what they have to say to us and what they want to do with us are less important than using our phones. We want to be parents who are engaged and present with our kid.