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The Importance of Face-to-Face Time

More people have mobile phones than have toilets. (Fun fact.)

Research shows that phones are just too hard to ignore. It’s not your fault—it’s like physical dopamine combined with the hyper-social environment that phones provide. And let’s face it, with younger kids (and sometimes even older!), the daily dramas of our children are not always so captivating—sneaking a look at social media or answering a text can be very tempting.

Don’t let my kids see this, but in the middle of a feed–clothe–drive–calm– feed–play cycle, plugging into social media reminds us of lives outside of our children. With older kids especially, I find that I make excuses for myself: “Well, they’re on their phone so I might as well be, too,” or trying to convince myself: “Well, at this age they prefer their friends.”

The truth is, though, just looking at your phone during a conversation very often results in a deterioration of the moment. That’s a hard pill to swallow. It's easy to forget that face-to-face time is important.

You do not have to give up your phone or silence social media indefinitely. I wonder, though, if it might make sense to build some intentional “face-only” time into our day. Think of it as credit where credit is due: you’re spending all this time with your children anyway, so let’s make sure it counts.

 a mother who is confused by her child's behavior

Make a Moment

When we make a choice to look at our phone, the message we give is this text is more important than you are. Can you imagine, in the middle of your child telling you a story, saying, “Hold that thought. I’m just going to read two pages in this great novel I started”? Probably not. But maybe you can imagine yourself saying something like:

Rather than . . .

“One sec, I just have to tell Adam I’ll be late tomorrow morning.”

“Let me just grab this message, I’ll help you in a minute.”

“Let me just take a quick picture; I’ve got to post this first.”

While disconnection is inevitable, reconnecting is magical. I’m not suggesting that you stare lovingly into your children’s eyes all day long, but periodically projecting that they are more important than your phone is, simply, priceless.

Try . . .

“I’m so happy you’re home. I’m going to put my phone in the drawer over here; I really want to hear how your day went.”

“Oh, I know it’s ringing. But it can wait—I want to hear the rest of your story.”

“Oh yes, I’m expecting that text. It can wait. I’m enjoying being with you.”

Why It Works

The tradeoff for the convenience of texting and the fun of social media is reduced human-to-human interactions. Amidst all that digital noise, you may miss your child’s voice begging for your attention. Despite what Facebook and TikTok want us to believe, true belonging, connection, or simply feeling like we matter requires face-to-face time, even with our kids. Especially with our kids.

Without beating a dead horse (I hope): disconnection can be normal and natural, so the significance of that small voice is supreme. Remember, I’m only talking about five minutes. Of course, children will each be affected in different ways by their parents’ use of technology, but for sensitive kids who are fighting for their parents’ attention, self-esteem or self-respect can plummet if they begin to feel second-fiddle. Some kids even give up trying. Plus, higher self-esteem and self-confidence are crucial not only for their own sake, but also as a key aspect of resilience, and an important foundation for that beautiful whole human person we’re raising.

Putting aside the phone (did I mention what wonders just five minutes can do?) is one small, excruciating step for you and one giant, feel-good leap for your child.

Summary of why face to face time important

Like what you're reading? Download a free chapter of my book, MicroStep Method for the Overwhelmed Parent: Small Moments, Big Impact.


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