Screen Free Zones | How to Encourage more Face to Face Time

People often ask me how much time is too much. Given that screens have become so pervasive in every place and aspect of our lives, I think that a better way to look at it is all the places and times you decide not to allow screens. Where in the house, in school, outside, might not be great places to have a screen, or at least a cell phone?

Here is one example of something I do: When we are having people over who have kids/teens, I let the guests know, beforehand, that we have a tech-away policy when socializing at our home. That little preamble has helped my kids feel less awkward when guests arrive, and the policy is gently brought up. I try to say something in a joking way like ”I am so glad we all get to share our attention, I know all of our devices will be shouting in the background ‘What about me, what about me?’”

Glennon Doyle, who writes on the merits of being honest and purposeful, posted this picture above on Facebook last week sharing with her fans that when her daughters’ friends come over, they have to deposit their phones in a basket.

When my daughter, Tessa, was younger and she had sleepovers, we would agree beforehand on a reasonable time for devices put away, usually around 11:30. She would tell her friends about the policy before arriving so I wouldn’t embarrass her. Because at 11:30 they would rarely shut off the devices on their own, I usually had to come in to collect them. I always got the sense that at least one or two of them were partly relieved when I put the devices to sleep.

Three years ago my family decided to make car time, screen-free time. There is no question that it has been a great thing for our car conversations. It was a bit touch-and-go when we started. When my kid’s friends would get in the car, I would gently tell them that we have a no cell phone policy in the car. At first, my kids were embarrassed that I would say this. But through our family conversations where we discussed the benefits of such a policy, over time they stopped being annoyed, and they don’t mind my telling their friends—seriously, they don't.

There are clear safety reasons why fewer distractions in the car are good. Distracted driving now causes more accidents than drinking. And yet it is not just about safety. In Australia, a recent survey conducted of a thousand families found that 95% of parents believe a car is a place where kids can open up, and the family can bond. Yet, the parents in the study reported that more than 75% of their children are often on a tablet, phone or other screens, while in the car.

It might be fun to share these cell phone free bans with your kids as a conversation starter:

Honolulu doesn’t allow people to be looking at their phones while crossing the street.

The City of Montclair, in California, liked Hawaii's idea so much that they passed an ordinance last year too.

In Chongqing, China there is a 100-foot  “cellphone lane” for people who use their phones while walking.

France has banned cellphones in schools for kids up to the age of 15.

For this week’s TTT talk to your family and youth about what are the times and places in their day where screens are not allowed:

  • Can you think of rules that some of your friends have in their homes that we do not have?

  • How about the opposite?

  • Do you think it is embarrassing when a parent enforces your own family’s rules when your friends are around?

  • If you were a parent how would you handle such a scenario?


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