Jayne Dowle: Important to escape from technology’s vice-like grip

Families are in danger of becoming addicted to their phones.
Families are in danger of becoming addicted to their phones.
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Mobile phones and tablets are becoming a barrier between us and our children.

THIRTY per cent of us check our phones every 30 minutes according to a new survey.

I’m surprised it’s not more often. I’ll admit that mine is never out of my sight for most of the day.

It’s my lifeline to the world; I need it for work, to keep in touch with my partner, parents and friends, and to conduct all of my business from moving house to booking theatre tickets.

My phone allows me to be anywhere in the world and still carry on with everything that matters in my life. I’d wager that without it, I’d earn half as much money and probably misplace both children on a regular basis.

In my more philosophical moments, I sometimes look at it and marvel that this small rectangle of metal and plastic could possibly contain so much information.

What would our forebears, with their reliance on the telegram and postcard, have made of this? Could they have imagined a world effectively run from the palm of a hand?

We cannot escape from the vital role of technology in our lives. However, I would like to suggest that we all try to escape from its vice-like grip, for the sake of our family and emotional stability, if nothing else.

One in five of the 2,000 surveyed admitted that they suffer from “separation anxiety” should they find themselves somehow disconnected from their device. How could it be that something which is supposed to offer us freedom ties us down so much?

Although I am the first to admit that I can’t live without mine, I’m not so far gone that I don’t recognise the signs of addiction.

To this end, I endeavour to run regular tests to check that I can actually survive if I am parted from the incessant urge to click it on.

My favourite takes place on our annual holiday to Devon when I am obliged to leave my phone in the apartment in order to go surfing.

For a couple of blissful hours every day, no one can get hold of me. I don’t have to check my emails, my Facebook, my Twitter, or find myself with an unaccountable urge to read my horoscope or window-shop for anything on eBay. It’s incredibly liberating.

May I suggest that you do the same, and encourage your other half and children to practice it too? We all need to organise our lives, but not at the expense of family life.

Do we want our children to grow up without the ability to make eye contact or to hold a conversation without the incessant interruption of a beep? Do we want family mealtimes and car journeys to be conducted in silence whilst youngsters sit motionless, plugged into some pointless game or another?

My two, who are 10 and 13, have been pestering for phones of their own for months.

My partner, more of a soft touch than me, finally gave in last week to a particularly persuasive man from his phone provider who rang to inform him of the latest deals.

The next day, two bright shiny new iPhone 5s appeared at the door. The children were absolutely ecstatic. I was pleased too, because it means that I can keep in direct contact with them.

And unlike the Prime Minister, who has reportedly banned his children from using iPads on Saturday mornings, I’m no technophobe. I want my children to grow up empowered by what technology can do, not afraid of it or guilty. My delight came with a caveat though.

Now we’ve all got phones, we need to ensure that we don’t end up as one of those families who sit together on an evening communicating with each other by text.

We also need to set some ground rules regarding mealtimes. This was brought home sharply to me last weekend when we went out for Sunday lunch with my parents.

As soon as we sat down, Jack and Lizzie got their iPhones out on the table, ready to entertain themselves – and in Jack’s case, keep abreast of the football scores.

This kind of behaviour is not acceptable to me, or to their grandparents, who struggle even to send a text. I told the children to put their phones away until we had finished eating.

“I will if you will,” replied Jack. And he’s got a point. My little black case was sitting there on the table in front of us, just in case. In case of what though? Something more important than three generations all sitting down to eat together?

As recent research from the Boston Medical Centre found, parents are the worst offenders. Researchers studied mothers and fathers eating at a fast food restaurant with their children and discovered that one in three used their phones almost continuously during the meals – avoiding eye contact with their children and thereby negating any child/parent bond.

Is that what we want as parents? Don’t dismiss this survey from a juice company as a complete PR-exercise then. It should make us all think before we click.