Don’t Let Smartphones Ruin Your Relationships

Here's how "phubbing" hurts others and may even spark behavioral problems in our children.

At this point, we have probably all experienced a moment when the person we’re with is texting someone else or playing on their phone instead of paying attention to us. Phone snubbing is so common it even has a name — “phubbing” — and it can take a toll on relationships.

“We get upset, we’re hurt, our feelings are hurt,” says James Roberts of Baylor University, who conducted a study of the effects of phubbing on couples. “We feel like we’re left out. Particularly when it’s with our romantic partners — the people that we love.”

Some stats from the Baylor study: Nearly half of survey respondents reported being phubbed by their partner. About a quarter said it caused a conflict, and more than a third reported feelings of depression as a result.

Parental phubbing

Another study by researchers at University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University suggests that the way adults use their cellphones can also have an adverse impact on their children, and may even spur behavioral issues.

The study was quite small — 170 two-parent households — so findings are far from definitive. Still the study’s conclusions advance the work of other researchers who found that children feel upset when they believe their parents have abandoned them for technology.

“This was a cross-sectional study, so we can’t assume a direct connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior, but these findings help us better understand the relationship,” senior author Dr. Jenny Radesky, a child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott, said in a press statement following the study’s publication in the online journal Child Development. “It’s also possible that parents of children with behavioral difficulties are more likely to withdraw or de-stress with technology during times with their child.”

After a hard day at work, is it really so wrong to tune the kids out during mealtime so you can chat online with friends? The answer may well be yes. The researchers found children of parents who allow technology to interrupt meals, playtime or conversations with their children are more likely to have children who act out inappropriately, are overly sensitive, yell, whine and throw temper tantrums.

The findings seem to build on those of other researchers, including a study based on surveys of more than 6,000 people — parents and their children ages 8 to 13 — in nine countries including the United States.

More than half of the children surveyed — 54 percent — by online security company AVG Technologies said their parents checked their phones too often. Just over a third of the children surveyed — 36 percent — said parents allowed their phones to distract them from conversations. And just under a third of children surveyed — 32 percent — reported their parents’ cellphone use made them feel unimportant.

Many parents are aware of the problem. Just over half of parents surveyed — 52 percent — said they spend too much time on their phones. Just under a third of those adults — 28 percent — said their phone use was not a good example for their children.

It’s common for parents to report that they want to decrease their dependence on the devices, but the answer is not to abandon technology, said Radesky.

“Parents may find great benefits from being connected to the outside world through mobile technology, whether that’s work, social lives or keeping up with the news,” she said. “It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home,” she said. “But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.”

How to dial back your screen time

Those who are phubbers or interact with them should have frank discussions with those close to them, Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona told Yahoo Health. Discuss your feelings and establish boundaries that you’ll follow during future cellphone use. Consider these ideas to break your harmful technology habits:

  • Turn off social media notifications. Do you really need to know every time someone posts to your Facebook page or sends you a tweet? Probably not. Turn off those alerts.
  • Enhance your technology downtime by helping others. One app, called Forest, “allows you to plant a virtual tree every time you use the app to disconnect from your phone. The tree will grow until you turn off the app. Then it dies. Users can spend virtual coins they acquire in Forest to support real-life tree planting.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Do Not Disturb function on your phone. You can use a feature that automatically blocks alerts and rings during certain times or only allows the phone to notify you if the calls or messages are sent from those you specify.
  • Set “power hours.” Those are designated times to check email and other social media. Compressing response-related work into short periods of time each day — say one to two hours — was one of the habits of the most-productive people, according to researcher and author Scott Belsky, writing on Mashable. Belsky compiled his extensive interviews on the topic into the book “Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality.” His focus was keeping the phone from interrupting productivity, but the concept can also be applied to preventing interruptions during important times and conversations with loved ones.

What is your relationship with your smartphone, and how does it affect your other relationships? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham @NancyDWrites

Nancy Dunham is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

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