The 4 Most Important Tech-Free Zones at Home
Anyone whose toddler can unlock her phone, pull up the music app and play the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack unassisted probably worries about technological interference in family life. But there’s an easy way to find the sweet spot between Fortnite addiction and living like the Amish. Simply declaring key areas of your home “tech-free zones” can keep the most problematic screen-use issues at bay. The only catch is, ALL family members must get on board with these rules to make them stick. That includes parents who “just need to check one work email” at the dinner table. Read on for the best places to set your boundaries.
It really is the heart of the home. Family meals together at the table without screens—whether they’re breakfast or dinner, every day or just a few times a week—are scientifically proven to contribute to healthier social behavior and positive life outcomes for kids. Something as simple as chatting over a bowl of spaghetti can lead to lower rates of depression, substance abuse and eating disorders, and improve vocabulary and academic performance. Regularly eating together may even be more beneficial than—gasp—homework.
What’s a proven way to undermine cognitive functioning and mental health and increase chances of obesity? Sleep with your phone. The majority of adults do it, but many teenagers are waking up in the middle of the night to use theirs. According to research psychologist Jean M. Twenge, author of the viral Atlantic piece "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?": “There are lots and lots and lots of studies in medical journals showing that people who keep their devices next to them when they sleep don’t sleep as well, and they also don’t sleep as long.” Tech in the bedroom also puts a damper on romance as couples increasingly sit side by side staring at screens instead of each other.
We’re all about jointly listening to audiobooks and forcing your kids to endure your “lame old lady ’80s music” (that is a verbatim quote). But the car can also be a sacred space of connection. Kids may feel freer to open up about their troubles when a parent’s eyes are on the road and not boring into theirs. Also, the sooner you show them that a driver has no business looking at a phone, the safer they—and everyone else who will one day share the road with them—will be.
Three out of four Americans use their phone on the toilet. And the majority of them don’t clean their phone after. (Fun fact: Toilet texting is most prevalent in Georgia, California, New York, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.) Phone screens carry ten times more bacteria than toilet seats. You do the math.