Read Time - 7 min
Our average screen time has been steadily increasing over the past few years with most adults now spending about 4 hours a day on their phones. Many parents and families trying to combat this issue have tried to set time limits on devices. These have to be monitored constantly though and are made more complicated when phones are being used for useful or educational purposes.
For this reason and many others, Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and media researcher argues that a more productive approach to reducing screen time is limiting where we use our phones, rather than for how long. Creating phone-free zones demarcates areas in a home where phones are off the table and family interaction is re-prioritized.
In this article, we’ll share some tips on how to rethink phone usage in the home and 3 main areas worth keeping phone-free so that you can disconnect from the virtual world and get connected with each other again.
The first step in creating phone-free zones in the home is rethinking where mobile devices go in the first place. Where do you put your phone when you get in for the day? Where do you go to use it when you have work or calls to do? Here are some strategies that answer both questions and can be used to build a home environment less dominated by phone usage:
Jose Briones, an author, content creator, and “digital minimalist” offers a unique solution to those trying to reduce screen time at home in the form of “The Foyer Method”. In his book, Low Tech Life, Briones suggests placing a charging station by the entrance or foyer of the home and committing to plugging devices in upon arrival.
What this simple maneuver does is interrupt the habit many of us have of coming home and immediately collapsing on the couch with our phones. Instead, devices are put aside, and families are forced to engage with each other.
It also helps set the tone for guests and signifies the home space as one where distractions and the stress of the day are left at the door. In this way, it can be a helpful tool to not only lower digital usage but to protect the sense of calm in a home.
Another practical tip that Briones shares in his book is the idea of having a demarcated “Ethernet Room”. Though most homes will have WiFi available far beyond a single room, it’s worth limiting internet usage to a single space so that devices don’t pervade every area of the home.
The problem many of us have with resisting our phones is that it feels so easy to just use them anywhere and everywhere. Putting aside a single space where the internet can be used not only disrupts this pattern but allows us to literally close the door on the internet when we’re done using it.
Of course, both solutions from Briones still require significant self-control. To that end, he also suggests swapping out smartphones for “dumbphones” which don’t offer as much distraction or temptation. In a home setting, this can be as simple as reinvesting in an old-school landline so that you can leave your phone in the foyer or Ethernet room and still be able to receive calls and catch up with loved ones without extra distraction.
Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family had this to say on a phone-free home: "Fill the center of your life together–the literal center, the heart of your home, the place where you spend the most time together–with the things that reward creativity, relationship, and engagement. Push technology and cheap thrills to the edges; move deeper and more lasting things to the core.”
With that in mind, here are three key areas of the home worth demarcating as phone-free zones so that your family re-center the things that truly matter:
Every family is a little different about where they come together most frequently in a home. For some, it’s around the kitchen island or across the dinner table. For others, it’s huddled in the den playing board games or watching Friday night movies.
Wherever it is that your family likes to congregate and connect, make that a phone-free space. This ensures that social media and pinging messages don’t take away from quality time together and in turn, allows you to “move deeper” into your relationships.
Bedrooms are sacred spaces in which to find rest, but also connection – two things that phone use can seriously hinder. Keeping bedrooms phone-free means that when kids are being put to bed, there’s nothing to interrupt that important routine but it’s also important for couples seeking to reconnect beyond work, kids, or other stressors.
Phone usage has been widely documented as a sleep interrupter so anyone, whether living with family or alone, can benefit greatly from creating a phone-free sleeping space. It protects the sanctity of your night and morning routines and generally allows for a greater sense of relaxation.
For some families it’s a balcony, for others it’s a backyard, but if your home has an outdoor area, it’s worth making that space a phone-free zone. Getting outside is such a great way to connect with nature and get perspective in a world dominated by virtual realities. Insisting that family members put their phones aside while you watch the sunset, water the plants, or have a barbeque helps ensure that everyone is more present for those precious moments.
When we pick up our phones to check emails for the millionth time of the night or find ourselves going from weather reports to 30-minute TikTok binges, what we’re really doing is zoning out on our lives. Even starting small with one phone-free zone or just enacting The Foyer Method forces us to place all those distractions at the edge of the home and reprioritize connection and relaxation.