Signing on to the Family Mobile Minutes Plan

Posted on June 22, 2017

On Father’s Day, I walked into a restaurant where my parents and my sister and her family were waiting. My 13-year-old niece and 12-year-old nephew had their heads buried in their phones. I squeezed them both from behind, and for a few seconds, they turned around and gave me a hug. Then they turned back toward their phones.

I settled in next to my 9-year-old nephew, Dillan, who was sitting in a corner with his head on his arms. My sister pointed to his siblings and explained, “Dillan doesn’t have a phone yet, and he’s upset that his brother and sister get one and he doesn’t.” I understood; I’d feel the same way. This truly is every parent’s issue: You can’t stop the older ones from having a phone, and the little ones are not old enough for them.

I bent over and whispered in Dillan’s ear, “Hey, how are you? I want my hug!” He turned around, hugged me, and returned to his downcast position. But as I looked around, I noticed that everyone except my father and mother had their phones out and they’d fiddle with them as notifications and texts came in.

Suddenly a light bulb went on! On Friday I’d had a conversation about parenting and technology with Josh Ochs of Safe Smart Social, and he’d mentioned that when he had reconnected with a friend over a meal the two of them decided to take a “mobile minute break.” Since they were in the middle of their workday, they set aside one minute every hour to check their phones and attend to any needed business.

That’s it, I thought. Without further planning, I said to Dillan, “Do you want to help me with Family Mobile Minutes?”

What’s that?” he asked, suddenly curious.

“Let’s see if we can get everyone’s attention.” I took my fork, clinked a glass, and said, “May I have everyone’s attention, please?” They all looked up. “Would everyone be open to playing Family Mobile Minutes?”

“What’s that?” the older kids asked.

“We will all put our phones away for an hour. At the end of the hour, Dillan—who will be keeping track of time—will pass the phones to everyone for three minutes so we can all touch base with work or social media. Dillan will time the three minutes, and then he will collect the phones again. This will help us all spend real quality time together with each other and our guest of honor, Grandpa! Is everyone ready?”

Dillan jumped up and grabbed grandma’s big handbag and with her permission to use it as our mobile gadget storage bag, he walked chair to chair, holding the bag out for each phone. My brother-in-law struggled to finish a text, and my niece tried to push it another five minutes, but she finally joined in. Everyone complied, and within minutes, there was laughter and conversation around the table.

A few minutes later, my adult son walked in, looked around, and immediately asked, “No phones?”

“Nope,” said Dillan, who explained Family Mobile Minutes. My son thought it was a cool idea and dropped his phone into grandma’s bag. Then my adult daughter walked in, and though she raised her eyebrows when Dillan told her what we were doing, she, too, said, “I’m in!” Seeing their older cousins participating made the young ones even happier. The energy at the table was amazing, and everyone felt it.

The verdict? “This is actually fun and freeing.”

Here’s what I feel was key to our success:

  1. Delivery is everything: Family Mobile Minutes was explained with a loving and fun tone of voice. No drama, just a simple statement. This is important for avoiding resistance by kids, especially teenagers.
  2. Be all inclusive: Everyone has to put their phones away.
  3. Be creative: My daughter—our family photographer—wanted to catch Grandpa totally focused on the delicious food. She looked at Dillan and pleaded for her phone so she could take a picture. I asked that she wait until the hour was up and reminded her that artistry lies in recreation as much as capturing the moment. When Dillan agreed, she waited.
  4. Have fun: There were many times when someone pretended to sneak into Grandma’s bag, and everyone hollered, “Noooooo!” That just added to the enjoyment.

What came out of this experience was magical. For the first time ever in our family, we were cell-phone free as a group for a total of 3 hours and 48 minutes and on our phones together for a total of 12 minutes in the 4 hours that we were together.

Here are my top six benefits:

  1. A deeper connection: You can’t put a price on this. We were hugging, and my grown children joked a lot about not having their phones, totally entertaining us all.
  2. Stronger communication: There was lots of eye contact, great conversations, and no mobile distractions.
  3. Mindful eating: Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and had something to say about the fabulous meal we shared at Spread, Mediterranean Kitchen.
  4. More relaxation: The parents of the younger children did not have to ask their kids to put their phones down, which allowed everyone to enjoy their food more.
  5. Positive habits: We all know what has happened to the dining table since cell phones have taken over. This underlined how good it feels not to be bogged down with our devices.
  6. Great role modeling: As parents, we set the stage, and this is terrific behavior to model.

Try it and tell us what you think!!