Question From the Trenches: My spouse is addicted to screens

Dollarphotoclub_57435583 Question: What do you do when your spouse has a technology addiction and won’t agree to or participate in these “screen free” periods? My kids are only 3 and 6 months, but I already have a hard time getting him to disengage from his phone games and participate in a more meaningful way with our family. Suggestions?

PPBB Answer:  Hi Robin — That is a good, and tough, question. I think it is fair for him to zone out and decompress from the day doing something he enjoys, but that time has to have a stopping point that he respects and then rejoins the family. Or he can wait until after bedtime for his own personal time, but speaking from experience having survived the toddler years with my husband, we needed the post-kid bedtime hours to connect with each other as a couple. Caring for your marriage is just as important as caring for your kids.

Screen addiction is a real thing, and it might be that he is using it to mask deeper feelings like depression, feeling overwhelmed with the two little kids + financial stresses of having a family these days, or something else. If he is totally disassociated and checked out maybe a family therapist is your best bet. A neutral third party may be able to help he see how big the problem is and how it is impacting the people he loves most in the world. Research is showing us that parental overuse of smart phones is absolutely having a negative impact on our parenting.

Especially at the young ages your children are, parental interaction and specifically the amount of words they hear a day from you is crucial to their development and success in school. For example, there is a big difference between him ‘being in the same room’ with the kids but plugged into his screen versus actually sitting down on the floor and playing with them in a caring and engaged way.

Example: Sitting on floor playing with toddler while baby is doing tummy time nearby, “Good job stacking those blocks Ty! What happens when we put the big square purple one on top? Oh no! They all fell over! Can you help me stack them again? Yes, Baby Mya is slobbering on the yellow block. It is nice of you to share. Okay, how should we build it this time? Can we build the tower with the little one on the bottom? What do you think? Or should we try a big block? Which way should we try first? Oh whoops, don’t let Sister eat that because she might choke. Can you be a good big bro and move it out of her reach to keep her safe? Thanks bud.”

Example: Same scenario, but he’s plugged into a game instead of his kids and the preschooler asks dad to look at the block tower he just made and your husband responds with “Huh, nice.” Meanwhile, poor little baby is just sitting in her Bumpy seat drooling on her toy and smiling and cooing at her dad, desperately trying to earn a smile from him.

That’s a difference of 115 words versus 2, and even when he isn’t speaking directly to baby, she’s still hearing the words spoken to big brother. And in the first example, both kids learn they are really important to dad and he is their buddy.
(Also, hello! Alone time/work out time for you!)

Some people don’t know how to play with little kids, which sounds bizarre but it’s true. Maybe start by sitting in with them, doing the play narration like I did above. My husband was great at making up various voices for the kids’ toys, so we had a collection of Jive-talking dinosaurs and all of the kids’ Match Box cars have voices and personalities. That is something I stink at and my kids BEG me not to play with them or try to do the different voices. Time alone with each parent is really important because kids learn there can be two totally different ways to do something but both are good ways.

So if the child development thing doesn’t grab him, what about a fitness angle and that the family should take a walk/stroller ride around the neighborhood or play at the park together? At three years old your oldest is ready to start learning soccer skills, how to play hide-and-seek, how to master the playground, etc. Or if you have a family dog, maybe it becomes a ritual that hubby and oldest kid walk the dog each night after dinner while you give baby a bath? Or vice versa?

Also, how about opening up with how it makes you feel that his phone games take precedence over family time? Maybe your oldest child can chime in. My kids HATE when I have to be working on my computer when they are home in the afternoon/evening and both have been very able to express to me how it makes them feel. It isn’t my job to entertain them 24/7, but being engaged during the evening family hours is important. Maybe this will work for you, but we had a family meeting where we all shared what was bothering us and we came up with a solution that was respectful to them but also for my need to run my business.

I hope one of those solutions works for you. He may not even be aware of how checked out he is and how much he is missing, so if you can approach it calmly and respectfully maybe he will come around and wean off the phone games. The avoidance thing is a real problem and all of our devices make that all too easy. Ultimately, remember that his decision does not have to be your decision — these kids grow up WAY to fast to miss out on that much of it. You can focus on being the best parent that YOU can be and model for you kids how the family loves and respects each other. If he chooses to miss out on all of that, it is his choice. The days are long but the years are short.

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