The Valentine’s Day Phone Pact

My husband and I are expecting our first child a few weeks after Valentine’s Day. The proximity to the “day of love” and just the pure excitement of meeting our little one has our hearts all a-flutter. It’s also set the stage for many a philosophical conversation about what kind of parents we will be, and what kind of couple we should be for our child. We keep coming back to the big topics – morals and values – but these tend to lead us to more everyday concerns, like how we might regulate exposure to media, technology, and screens during the most important developmental years, birth to age three.

We’re not doctrinaire where these issues are concerned. Trust me, we embrace technology, like the simple text conversation during the day that can really help a couple stay connected. But so much of the commentary about smart phones and video games is critical of their effect on our social relationships – and how technology distracts us from the ones we love.

As a speech and language pathologist and mom-to-be, I have real concerns about the effects of mobile devices and tablets on the development of language and communication in our children. Children learn first and foremost through observing the models for behavior we provide as parents. Imagine the signals we are sending when we are compulsively checking email and are less engaged in face-to-face interactions. We miss out on many real moments – even a smile or gaze.

Neither my husband nor I want to carry bad technology habits into our expanding family, so we made a deal: the “Valentine’s Day Phone Pact,” to be exact. It honors our time together and encourages intimacy and communication.

If we want to teach our children well, it starts with a little bit of reflection on our own behaviors, a little love and respect, and the willingness to learn from our bad habits. Here’s our pact:

No phone at the table during any meal.

Time at the table with family or friends is a rarity these days and should be held sacred.  When children are present, this is one of the most important times to practice and develop language skills, as it’s a rare opportunity during the day to be sitting at a table with little else to do besides talking, listening, and of course eating. It’s a great time to model good listening behavior, turn taking, and story telling/sequencing skills by talking about the things a child did during the day.

No phone in bed.

I’m sick of our phones being the last thing we interact with before going to bed and the first thing we interact with when waking up in the morning. When I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, reaching for the phone is a habit. But who is emailing me at 3 AM besides The Gap?

In my family, our phones are now plugged in outside of the bedroom and anything iPhone-related cannot be the last thing we do before going to bed or the first thing we do in the morning. That would set a bad tone for unwinding mindfully and starting the day mindfully. Now I enjoy a lovely little morning at home and don’t check my email on my phone until I leave the house.

No phone in the bathroom.

We had to think long and hard about this one, but in addition to no bedroom, we keep the phone out of the bathroom as well. Sure, it might seem like a great time to scroll through email, text, or check social media, but the idea is to get comfortable being bored and just being. Who knows – the next brilliant thought could be around the corner.

No phone while walking.

People don’t look up anymore. Heads are down, buried in a text message, lost in a Facebook feed or email. We’ve lost the ability to just walk.

No phone while driving.

It’s against the law, unsafe, and robs us of a great time to just be and give ourselves a break from the business of the day. And if we are driving with our children, it’s also a great time to facilitate language development with little ones and engage in conversations with our older ones. Car time can be a great way to connect, tune in, and spend some quality time with yourself, your spouse, or your children.

Find distinct times to check the phone.

Focus on processing email for that period of time and that period of time only. Get comfortable waiting in lines without checking the phone, waiting for food at a restaurant table without checking the phone, and really just waiting. Waiting is good for us. And we provide a good model for our children when we wait without needing something to fill the gap.

Be patient!

Do not check the phone repeatedly. I’m guilty of this. Do I really need to hit refresh on my email 5 minutes after checking my email? Nope.

Minimize ringers and reminders.

We’ve turned off all sounds and vibrations for texts, emails and other apps in order to squash the urge to check the phone more often than necessary. Someone will call if it’s an urgent matter.

Remember, our devices are meant to help us live our lives, not take them over. If we can model this for our children, they will be more present and be able to enjoy and learn from life that much more. And another thing: babies don’t need smart phones. We have to make responsible choices about what we show our children as they grow.

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R_CorteseRachel (Eckenthal) Cortese, MS Ed, MS CCC-SLP, a licensed speech-language therapist, specializes in the evaluation and treatment of young children and adolescents with communication disorders including speech production problems, language difficulties and associated conditions, like learning disorders. She is certified by the American Speech & Hearing Association (ASHA) and is a New York state certified teacher of speech and language disabilities. Ms. Cortese comes to the Child Mind Institute with over 10 years of combined classroom, clinical, and alternative therapeutic experience.

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