How Parents Can Set Their Own Smartphone Boundaries
Early motherhood (or fatherhood) can be an isolating time. Your life becomes consumed by a tiny human who isn’t the greatest conversationalist. Interactions with your partner quickly fall into a pattern of taking turns keeping said tiny human alive. And interactions with friends? They’re either fellow moms who are just as overwhelmed as you are, or they don’t have kids and they’re wondering where you went.
Enter the smartphone: Every new mom’s best friend. It keeps us company during hours of breastfeeding. It gives us knowledge and comfort when we have a question about that rash on baby’s bum. It gives us a feeling of real connection and satisfaction when we share the little highlights of our lives on social media. And sometimes, when reading a thought-provoking article or browsing a friend’s feed, it reminds us of the people we were before becoming mothers.
Smartphones can feel like a lifeline to a new mom, but sometimes they do more harm than good. Dr. Anna Kress, a clinical psychologist in Princeton, N.J., notes that moms today are often more isolated than previous generations, and our phones have a lot to do with that. “Ironically, devices can create an illusion of connection that can actually contribute to feelings of loneliness,” she says.
Having a healthy relationship with our smartphones requires a delicate balance, and that starts with setting some ground rules. Here are some tips for being more intentional about your phone usage.
Use a Time Tracker
A survey of 2,000 people conducted by global tech protection company, Asurion, showed that the average respondent checked their phone every 12 minutes — up to 80 times per day. Apps like Moment, Freedom and Space are key for helping you recognize exactly how much you use your smartphone, and can be useful in building a plan for cutting back.
“Being present is important for the parent-child bond,” Dr. Kress notes. “That means paying attention to your baby’s cues, making eye contact, smiling and talking. While this type of interaction doesn’t have to be constant, in today’s world, it usually requires scaling back on using devices.”
Turn Off Notifications
Between your text messages, emails, social media accounts and whatever other apps you use on your phone, if you have your notifications turned on, your phone may never stop buzzing.
Sure, it’s satisfying to know the moment something has happened in your digital world, but that activity will still be there if you wait a bit to check in. And the truth is, having a rush of emails and likes pop up on your screen can be even more fun than single notifications spread out throughout the day.
Create Phone Zones
Many of us carry our phones in our back pockets, which makes reaching for them second nature. While it’s convenient to be able to snap a photo when baby does something unexpectedly adorable, you also may find yourself getting sucked into the loop of checking email, scrolling Instagram and browsing Pinterest.
“Make time to turn off the phone or leave it in another room while you play with your baby,” Dr. Marinari says. “Instead of using social media while you are feeding your baby, sing or read to your baby. Make it a point to turn off notifications and only login once a day or a few times a week. Being present is an intentional act that we as mothers need to choose to do every day for our children. Present mothers build the foundation to raise emotionally aware children.”
Ban the Phone in Bed
While creating boundaries for your phone usage, there’s one area that should always be off-limits: your bed. Studies have shown that the blue light from your phone can trigger sleeplessness. Experts advise avoiding bright screens two to three hours before bedtime.
Besides the fact that it might mess with your all-important sleep time, having your phone in bed will distract you from doing other, potentially more beneficial activities — like reading a book or spending quality (read: baby-free) time with your partner. Ban the phone in bed, and you’ll likely find yourself sleeping easier within a few nights.
Invest in an Alarm Clock
It may be hard to fully ban your phone in bed when you rely on it as your alarm clock. Even if you manage to stay off of it at night, you may find yourself sleepily scrolling after turning off your alarm first thing in the morning. And that can set the tone for your entire day.
Do away with that temptation by purchasing a good old-fashioned alarm clock. Leave your phone charging across the room — or in another room entirely — and you’ll wake up without the immediate urge to check in online.
Set a Personal Social Media Schedule
Many social media apps are designed to keep you coming back, and recent studies have revealed their dangerously addictive qualities. When spending time with your baby, it’s all too easy to check into your accounts throughout the day to get that familiar satisfaction that comes from likes or comments. By the end of the day, you may have spent hours scrolling through your various feeds. That’s why setting a personal social media schedule can be helpful.
Dr. Kress recommends setting aside a designated amount of time to catch up on your social accounts when you’re not actively engaged with your baby. “Allowing your baby to spend some time playing alone in your presence is also healthy, so when he or she is happily playing alone, you can use that time as your guilt-free device time,” she says. “Just make sure to keep an eye on how much time you’re actually spending on your device and whether you’re missing your baby’s cues.”
Delete Problem Apps
Maybe you get sucked into Candy Crush, or you can spend hours watching Instagram stories. Maybe scrolling the CNN app puts you into a rage.
Identify the apps that aren’t creating positivity, and consider replacing them with healthier apps that promote mindfulness such as Headspace, Insight Timer and Happify.
Go to the Library
Many new moms find themselves sucked into forums and endless articles in a desperate search for information about everything from their baby’s growth to their own mental health. Of course, the internet is a hugely valuable source of information for new moms, but it can also be a rabbit hole that’s all too easy to fall into.
Instead of wasting hours scrolling through forums about breastfeeding and sleep training, head to the library and check out a few books on the topics you want to learn about. You can then rest assured that the information you’re getting was penned by a professional. And wouldn’t you rather your baby grow up seeing you read books than staring at your phone constantly? As a bonus, libraries are a great place to meet other parents. Check the storytime schedule to turn the errand into a social event for you and your little one.
Make Time for Socializing
“Social media can be unhealthy if it is used in excess, triggering a sense of inadequacy or defeat in new moms,” Dr. Marinari says. “New mothers may feel a sense of pressure to be perfect, and phones or social media can contribute to more feelings of pressure and perfectionism. It is better to use social media as a secondary form of relationship building and make physically meeting up with other moms and friends primary.”
That includes making time for coffee dates and play dates with other moms and their kids — and yes, there are plenty of apps that can help you arrange that. “Moms can maintain connections by joining mom groups or taking baby classes that provide an opportunity to talk to other parents,” Dr. Kress says. “In addition to scheduling play dates, making sure that date nights and an occasional girls’ night out are still on the calendar is worth the effort. It’s amazing how much socializing can help new moms refuel — making the challenging and sometimes very routine job of childcare easier and more enjoyable.”
And Make Time for the Fam
Maybe you feel like you spend all of your time with your family — but how much of that time do you feel fully present? Housework, jobs, busy schedules and, yes, your phone are major distractions that can make quality time hard to achieve.
Try to carve out some time in your day when your family can focus fully on one another without the distraction of screens. Whether it be at the dinner table, an early morning walk together or a trip to the park, these moments will still be memorable even if you aren’t Instagramming every step of the way.
Be a Good Influence for Your Kids
While your little one may seem blissfully unaware of how often you get sucked into your phone, the fact is they’ll start reaching for it sooner than you expect. Recognizing your own interest in the device, it’s likely to become an object of fascination for them as well.
“It’s important to establish healthy boundaries with social media, just like it’s important to teach our kids about healthy boundaries regarding its use,” Dr. Marinari says. “I believe we set the example for our kids. If they watch us as parents constantly using our phones, they will also want to use a phone constantly.”
Consider a Social Media Cleanse
Are you still struggling to disconnect from apps like Instagram and Facebook? You may benefit from quitting the app, at least temporarily. Delete social media apps from your phone and use a site blocker to restrict access on your computer. Set a realistic goal for yourself — this could be a weekend, a week or a month.
Then, all you have to do is stick to it. You may be shocked at how much you crave your social media check-ins in the first day or two of your cleanse, then amazed at how much time you have for other things when you’re not spending hours on your phone.