Robyn Pearce: What are phones doing to our relationships?

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Smartphones are good for taking pictures of the children, but do they take up valuable family time? Photo / Thinkstock
Smartphones are good for taking pictures of the children, but do they take up valuable family time? Photo / Thinkstock

Did you spot the Herald article by Amelia Wade some weeks ago entitled 'Parents suffering iGuilt over smartphones'?

Given that work/life balance is one element of my speciality topic of time management, my attention was caught immediately.

Maybe we need to start an i-Aholics Society! The problem is, technology is fun, easy, alluring and yes - addictive. The technology is great; it's wonderful to be able to instantly connect with people anywhere - but do we need to do it all the time? What are the consequences to our personal relationships?

• Is it ok to ignore the people you're with if something more interesting (or strident) intrudes?

• If you're a parent, what are you teaching your children about priorities?

One downside of our digital world is the risk of superficiality - and that includes in our personal relationships as well as our business ones.

What makes a friendship?

Two friends, who had lived in the same city for some years, now live in different countries. They were both attending a conference in the States so decided rooming together would be a great way to reconnect and spend time together.

A few months later one of them told me rather sadly: 'I was so looking forward to spending time with Vanessa. But every time we were in our room together and finally had time for girl-talk without others around, she spent all her time on her phone, Facebook and other social media. I came home feeling ignored, sad and really let down. I feel as though I'm not important to her anymore.'

Parenting in a digital world

If you're a parent, when was the last time you switched off your phone and just 'hung out' with a child?

I'm not suggesting that we have to be 100 per cent available for our children all the time we're in their company. God forbid! That sounds like a very stressful recipe for them as well as their parents. But when we carve out appropriate chunks of time to give them our full attention, we create very special memories for both. Even 30 minutes a week makes a difference.

When my 6 kids were all under 12 we realised that, in the busyness, it was rare to give any one child 'special time' without their siblings interrupting or allowing ourselves to be distracted.

So we set up a 'Special Time' system. Each child had a half an hour per week with one parent - and the child chose the parent and the activity. We kept track on a fridge chart, with the commitment (appointment) recorded at the beginning of each week. My then-6 year old only daughter still remembers playing dolls' tea parties with her 6ft farming father. She's now 38 and a mother of 3.

What we can learn from the French

I've just come back from a month's holiday in France, most of it spent with French families. There's a lot we can learn from the way the French as a nation do their parenting.

A significant feature of family life is the importance placed on sharing meals. Everyone, even children as young as 2, eat together, usually about 8pm. It's time to share the highlights of the day, discuss events, just 'be'. I never saw a mobile phone in evidence at any of these tables. It would have been regarded as the height of disrespect and rudeness. The focus instead was on savouring the food, enjoying the conversation, relaxing. Meals are a time to be fully present.

If you think you might be falling into the i-Guilt trap, try turning your digital devices off when you're with your loved ones. You might be surprised at the different quality of your time together.

(As an aside, if you're interested to know why French children are so much better behaved than many English-speaking children, eat a wide range of foods, sleep better, don't run their parents ragged and are polite to their elders, check out 'Bringing up Bébé - one American mother discovers the wisdom of French parenting' by Pamela Druckerman. Great book, jam-packed with commonsense advice.)

Reader giveaway: We have 2 double passes (worth $190.00 each) to giveaway to Robyn's next Breakfast Club in Auckland (July 27th). To be in to win, email your entry now to jill@gettingagrip.com with Breakfast (NZ Herald Online) in the subject line.

Entries close by 5pm Monday 16th July. For those who miss out, tickets and more details are at: www.gettingagrip.com/breakfastclub/. Entries have closed for the giveaway for this Friday's Christchurch event but you can still book online for the last 3 spots.

Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. Get your free report 'How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds' and ongoing time tips at gettingagrip.com.

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