Tips for winning back the family time lost to smartphones

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 6-year-old daughter Viva, who wonders how you’re reading this if you’re putting down your tablet and playing “Mermaid Island” with your daughter.

Last week I told you how to build an Old School Nintendo with your kids. This week, I’m going to tell you how to drop the booping beeping boxes that have consumed modern life and take back some IRL (in real life) time with your partner and kids. Hypocritical? Perhaps. But I’m a riddle wrapped in a mystery wearing an Apple watch — and therein lies the rub: I’m an information tech addict. If you’re like me (and my family), and you probably are, the siren’s song of phones and tablets pulls you away from the humans in the room with you, largely to look at the brunch pictures of people not in the room with you. 

At any given time that my family is theoretically together, my daughter is probably clutching an iPad and obsessing over YouTube, watching horrible screeching families grimacing through toy unboxings, my wife is texting with her theater students helping them choose audition shoes, and I’m sweating over Twitter fearing that our Very Stable Genius-in-Chief, Mango Noriega, pushed the nuke button instead of the Diet Coke ordering button and we’ve all got 20 minutes to live. 

How do we stop being a contended, anesthetized Information Age family and win back a little quality time as a healthy, bickering, frequently bored family? Read on … 

Plan ahead

Yuck, planning. I hate this one, but it’s true. Staring at your phone is the path of least resistance with regard to how to spend your time. If you don’t plan out your day, you’ll naturally slide into playing with your phones. Instead, decide what time you’re leaving the house, where you’re headed, when you’re coming back, and what you’ll do/eat/watch as a family together at home. This will also allow you to plan when you CAN look at your phones for a controlled about of time. Looking for something to do that doesn’t require your phone? Feb. 2-4 is the Andersonville Winter Sidewalk Sale from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., featuring not only grown-up friendly businesses but toys, candy, ice cream and more.

Establish screen-free areas

One of the reasons phones have eaten our lives it that they’re ubiquitous. You carry them in your damned pocket! It was hard to pull away from “Zork” on a desktop, but at least you could walk out of the room and not be eaten by a Grue. Candy Crush and Fruit Ninja come with you. Set up areas where the phone is not welcome. The table is a good one. Any table. Bedrooms, too, since phones interfere with sleep patterns so much they are breaking our brains. Plus, do your bosses really need to bug you in bed or at dinner? Nope. Why not head out for a phone-free family brunch of Edgewater’s Growling Rabbit. It’s got a rabbit theme the kids will dig, and once you bite into a Tijuana burrito, you won’t wonder where you left your phone.

Earn screen time

A friend of mine found his kids wanting to play video games all day, so he made them a deal: they could game for a minute for every minute they read. Pretty soon the kids got so into reading they’d earned nearly infinite gaming time and didn’t even spend it. We’re doing this with Viva and YouTube. If she reads us a book she gets ten minutes of sassy Youtube families low-key swearing and grubbing for clicks dressed as Anna and Elsa. It doesn’t have to be reading, screen time can be earned with any constructive real-world activity: scrimshaw, calligraphy, sand-painting … anything tactile that doesn’t involved opening blind-bagged Shopkins. The policy could probably apply to my wife and me, as well. For every minute I spend writing opera libretti, I get a minute looking at Star Wars memes on Instagram.

Rediscover the joy of reading things that aren’t 140-280 characters long at The Armadillo’s Pillow, a cozy, jam-packed Rogers Park bookstore just like the bookstores in your head.

Turn off your alerts

Alerts are really sinister. They imbue every message that comes into your pocket with a false and irresistible sense of urgency. If you’re not on a transplant list, and your kids are with you, there’s virtually nothing you need your phone to force you to check out. Your least favorite friend wants you to buy makeup on Facebook? Pass. Someone snapped you a picture of them in soft-focus wearing bunny ears to the tune of the new Sylvan Esso song? Unnecessary. All those little numbers in a circle aren’t telling you what you’re missing, they’re luring away from where you are to someplace you don’t need to be.

Replace the sound of your phone badgering you with the sound of local music. How about a single by Chicago-based Country Rock group “Cowboy Jukebox”? Try “Crawl Up on Me” on Spotify or iTunes.

Keep each other honest        

You’re not going to get this electronic monkey off of your back alone. Your family needs to be all in. How about you and your spouse update the “swear jar” concept and force one another to pay out if you bring a phone into a no-phone zone or interrupt a conversation to laugh at whatever Paul F. Thompkins just tweeted? You can penalize your husband or wife so that they gradually owe you items you really want, like being in a Showbiz Pizza without the robot band and the hand-foot-and-mouth disease! When my wife has put enough money in the iAddict jar, perhaps she can take me to Andersonville’s Cowboys and Astronauts men’s lifestyle supply boutique for some Rhone workout wear?

There’s a 90 percent chance your New Years resolution involved phone usage in some way, and I doubt that resolution was “spend more time on my phone.” Hopefully I’ve given you some tips on how to tame the beast and live more deliberately in 2018. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go earn some phone time by playing Nintendo.

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