Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Children, Family counselling, Relationships

How to get closer to your child, teenager or partner

(and a 24-hour challenge that could change your life)

 

As many of you know I am a Couple and Family Therapist. Which means I get to work with a vast array of problems – usually about relationships. I see husbands and wives who are in conflict, families who are estranged, divorced couples, and couples and family members who want to improve their relationships and become closer.

There are many things which can get in the way of relationships and closeness, but in this blog, I am only going to talk about one.  Devices. 

Let me give you some real-life examples of how devices can get in the way of relationship closeness – and sometimes even cause conflict:
  1. A newly married young couple who now sit on the couch next to each other on a Saturday night with their phones or iPads. Not interacting with each other.  It’s not a surprise to hear that they report feeling disconnected.
  2. Stressed adults who take their work home via their devices. They sleep with their device next to their bed, check it first thing in the morning, and often take the device into the shower or toilet with them. They seem more connected to their work than their partner or family.
  3. Teenagers who are holed up in their bedroom for hours at a time with their device. Connected to their peers (and unknown people) but not to their family.  Device behaviour is modelled by parents who are doing something similar in different parts of the house.
  4. Children who come home from school and get straight onto a screen for “down time”. They don’t play with siblings or communicate with parents.
  5. Children and teenagers who are on screens just prior to bed who get into heated arguments about the said bedtime with parents – conflict and disconnected relationships.
  6. Devices at the dinner table. Sadly, many people actually do this. At home and at restaurants. I think it goes without saying that if you have a device at the dinner table you are not connecting with your partner or family or friends.
  7. Couples who take devices into the bedroom and are messaging so much that one person begins to suspect infidelity. Sometimes it is infidelity and sometimes it is just disconnection from the current relationship. Regardless, it doesn’t take long for resentment to grow.
  8. Separated parents who message or email instead of talking. Because it’s harder for their tone and intention to be read correctly, those texts and emails often cause conflict.

These are just some of the situations I see in my work.  And unfortunately, devices are addictive, so getting off them is harder than you think.

Sometimes I hear from parents that they are waiting for their children and teenagers to “make the right decision” to get off their device. Have you, even as a grown adult, ever tried pulling yourself away from a bad but compelling TV show?  Children and teenagers with their underdeveloped brains have no hope.

My point is that many of us are in relationships not with our partners and our family – but with our devices!  And I’m not sure about you but my feeling is that if I was on my death bed it would be my partner and family that I would want to feel close to – not the device.

If you are still not convinced devices are a problem for relationship closeness, try taking my 24 hour NO device challenge.


24-Hour No Device Challenge

  1. Choose a day of the week when you don’t need to be on call for anything urgent. A weekend works best.
  2. Plan some other activities for your 24 hours together as a family e.g. board games, park activities, coffee shop, cooking together, planning holidays.
  3. Let any important people know you will be “offline”.
  4. If you really do need to contact somebody you must call them – no texting or emailing. But make this rule clear and concrete because there will be somebody in the family who will be desperate to break it.
  5. Choose a person to collect all mobiles, Ipads, computers, gaming devices, TV’s etc and lock them up or turn them off. Mobiles can be very addictive so it is best to actually turn them off and lock them away somewhere.
  6. Talk to your loved ones or read a book.
  7. Enjoy your family.

Have your anxiety levels gone up reading this?  Even more reason to take this challenge. But what will you get out of the challenge?

What you should notice is that your children and teenagers will come and seek you out.  They might complain that they are bored but they will at least be talking to you.  Allow them to feel bored.  After a while they will naturally find something else to do.  Or want to do something with you.

Partners benefit from this exercise a great deal because firstly they are forced to relax and secondly because they will end up talking about things that are important to them and for them as a couple and a family.   As a general rule people also sleep better.

This single behavioural change makes a huge difference to relationship closeness and everyone who has taken this challenge comes back with positive feedback.

What happens after the 24 hours are finished?

We all do need devices in some form or another to function these days.  But limits are the key.  The following are some limits I talk to couples and families about:
  • Screen time should be limited for children and used as a reward after they have completed their homework and any other essential tasks. Put a finite time on how much screen time they are allowed.
  • As above for teenagers. Teenagers should also never be allowed to have devices in their bedroom that are not monitored.
  • Mobiles, Ipads and computers should be put away at a certain time by all family members in the early evening. Ideally a good two hours before bedtime.
  • No devices at the dinner table.
  • No devices in the toilet, bathroom or bedroom unless couples are watching something together.
  • Greet your partner and your children before you reach for your device in the morning and when you come home before putting it on charger.
  • Try to call your partner or ex-partner as opposed to messaging them. Especially if you tend to get into conflict easily.
  • Don’t go to bed with your device – go to bed with your partner.
  • Parents need to model good device behaviour for children. So model it. If they see you put your device away to spend time with them they will feel important to you.
  • Be conscious about your devices and use of them in the home.

Reducing screen time is not the only way to improve closeness with your loved ones. But there is a good change that you will benefit greatly if you become aware of the real impact devices have on relationships and make even just a few small changes in the way you interact with them.

Many clients I see are having arguments about the use of devices in their home.  If this is you and this blog isn’t enough, please feel free to call us on 02 8968 9397 or email info@sydneycoupleandfamily.com and we will support you to make the relationship changes you need to feel close to those you love.

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