The Benefits of Unplugging: Data Indicates that Too Much Screen Time Can Be Detrimental to Family Relationships

cell phone headlines These types of headlines have been around for a while. With more screens in every household, more children with a cell phone, and more apps that allow constant connectivity to everything from Facebook to live television, many of us live in a world where we are never more than a button-push away from connecting to the online world. But, in fact, studies do suggest that this online connectivity is leading to lost connections in the real world – not just with friends and co-workers, but with the spouses and children who live in our own homes.

Most Cell Phone Use Detracts from Family Time

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half – 46 percent – of all smartphone owners said in 2015 that “they couldn’t live without” their phones. It seems unlikely that this number has gone down. An earlier Pew study concluded that one in five Americans spend more time working from home as a result of having ready access to the Internet. Earlier this year, TechCrunch reported the results of a study which found that Americans spend an average of five hours a day on their phones and tablets. The majority of time spent on mobile devices falls into three categories:
  • Social media (33 percent between Facebook, Snapchat, and other social/messaging apps)
  • Gaming and entertainment (a combined 29 percent)
  • News, sports, shopping, and web browsing (a combined 26 percent)

The Importance of Unplugging at Home

While mobile devices are now a part of many people’s everyday lives, parents and spouses must not overlook the importance of unplugging at home. Children need nurturing, and they learn from interacting with their parents. Parent-child interactions are critical to aiding in the development of skills like listening, speaking, focusing, establishing eye contact, and self-expression – skills that simply cannot be fully developed in the online environment. A study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University concluded that so-called “technoference” – the disruptive role that technology plays in couple’s lives – is indeed substantial. As summarized in Psychology Today: The study included 143 married or cohabiting women, the majority of whom reported that phones, computers and other technology devices were significantly disruptive in their relationships, couplehood and family lives. Specifically, higher levels of technoference were associated with greater relationship conflict and lower relationship satisfaction. Further, it seems greater levels of smartphone and other relationship technoference makes people more depressed and lowers their overall life satisfaction. cell phone use and social media happiness This is consistent with the results of a state-by-state study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior in 2014, which found that:
  • Divorce rates rise as Facebook enrollment rates rise; and,
  • People who do not use social media are, on average, 11 percent happier than heavy social media users.

How to Limit Screen Time During Family Time

So, if you are concerned that you, your spouse, or your children are spending too much time on mobile devices, what can you do to help re-establish the real-life connections that you desire? Here are some ideas to try:
  • Make it a point to eat meals in the dining room, away from the television and with every cell phone put away.
  • Make the car a no-device zone for everyone, not just the driver.
  • When you get in bed at night, retire your phone for the rest of the day.
These are just a few examples of small steps that can, in many cases, go a long way toward fostering real family connectivity.

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