student surfing internet on smartphone on urban lawn
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When I was sixteen years old, I received my first cellphone because I was going to run track at school and needed to call someone if something happened. However, a week into practice, it was clear I was too weak to participate in a long-distance sport that turned a non-runner into a girl running eight miles in one day, seven days a week.

With purple ankles and humiliating defeat, my eighty-pound stature at the time sulked off the team and back into the lonely bus ride to my grandparent’s house after school. While I was still the same girl, I was now another teenager with a cellphone. The only thing saving me was in the early 2000s, a phone was a phone to talk and text, and that’s it.

Today, kids as young as five years old are receiving cell phones under the banner of protection but the honesty of distraction. While I am not a parent myself, I teach teenagers and have watched my nieces and nephews enough to know that our society, now including myself, is addicted to what was meant to plug us in but only ever pulled us out. 

Instead of yelling at the kids I teach or watch to get off their phones, there are three quick tips to motivating them to put down their phones that I believe we can all learn from and pursue realistically. 

1) Lead by Example

Like a teacher with her students, no one wants to see someone else on their phone and then be told that they can’t be on theirs. It might sound a bit cliche, but when kids see parents, adults, guardians, or those watching over them living a great life without eyes glued to a screen, they are much more likely to do the same. 

As a child, when I would go to the grocery store with my mom, I couldn’t wait to place items on the conveyer belt, talk with the customers behind us, and of course, engage with the cashier who couldn’t wait for me to stop being a chatterbox. What happened to the days when we would talk to those around us rather than stare at empty screens? Please don’t act like you don’t do it; we’ve all been there, done that! 

Next time you go out, take a look around at those around you and encourage them to engage in conversation. People are begging for voices but feel awkward and stare at their phones in disbelief instead. It’s time we start leading by example, and when we do, our children and those looking up to us will surely follow. 

2) Eat Without Your Phone

Perhaps the second most common place that I see people on their phones and electronic devices besides the grocery store is in the comfort of dining tables and restaurants. As sad as it might sound, there is nothing I hate seeing more than a family gathered around a table, but their heads buried in the conversations on their screens rather than the voices at the table. 

I don’t know when we started engaging in this behavior, but if we began eating meals without our phones, this would encourage and motivate kids to do the same. Instead of typing or texting away twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, try talking to those across the table with you. Engage in meaningful conversations, say a prayer together, give thanks, and talk about your day. 

In Acts 2:42, the Word states, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, ESV). 

Remember when He ate with His Disciples in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified? At the place of a table, Jesus broke bread and poured wine symbolically as He delighted in fellowship with those who would soon betray Him.

Today, when we eat meals with others, give them your full attention, time, and effort. It doesn’t take much to eat and be present with someone, but it means everything. 

3) Limit Screen-time with Goals

Finally, one of the most enticing ways that I have found to encourage kids to put down their phones is through personal goals and ambitions.

I make it a goal to use my phone for less than three hours a day or less because that is something I have set for myself. If I go over that time, I don’t beat myself up but rather analyze how I have been using my hours and minutes. 

Through limiting screen-time with goals, kids can set their phones with limits for individual apps or strive to use their phone in general less. Even if I am reading the Bible or texting a friend back, I try to use my laptop to minimize distractions, and I am more present with those around me. 

This might sound simple, but you would be amazed how rejuvenated and energized your mental state is when you spend more time socializing physically than staring at a screen in your hand. While COVID-19 makes this challenging, reaching out by phone call and taking a walk can help healthily implement these changes. 

For younger kids, incentives are also good motivators if personal goals don’t work. Offering small rewards, trips to town or the park, or activities, for example, usually propel kids to set and make goals they wish to accomplish, rather than merely agreeing to complete because you’ve demanded it.

Motivating kids to put down their phones is not easy, but it does start with you! By leading by example, eating without your phone, and limiting screen-time with goals, children will learn to see the benefits of human interactions over virtual ones. 

Remember to be careful how you spend your time and invest in things that matter most. 

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah” (Psalm 39: 4-5, ESV). 

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10, ESV).