3 Tips to Motivating Kids to Put Down Their Phones

girl looking at boyfriend's phone

3 Tips to Motivating Kids to Put Down Their Phones

Today, kids as young as five years old are receiving cell phones under the banner of protection but the reality of distraction. While I am not a parent myself, I teach teenagers and have watched my nieces and nephews enough to know that our society, now including myself, is addicted to what was meant to plug us in but only ever pulled us out.

Parents will know that persistent commands or “suggestions” for their children to put down the phone can lead to more frustration and annoyance instead of better habits and a desire to be more engaged.

Here are three simple tips to motivating your kids to put the phone away and regain their attention.

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1. Lead by Example

1. Lead by Example

Like a teacher with her students, no one wants to see someone else on their phone and then be told that they can't be on theirs. It might sound a bit cliche, but when kids see parents, adults, guardians, or those watching over them living a great life without eyes glued to a screen, they are much more likely to do the same. They don’t know what’s possible until they see it.

As a child, when I would go to the grocery store with my mom, I couldn't wait to place items on the conveyer belt, talk with the customers behind us, and of course, engage with the cashier who couldn't wait for me to stop being a chatterbox. What happened to the days when we would talk to those around us rather than stare at empty screens? Please don't act like you don't do it — we’ve all been there and done that!

Next time you go out, take a look at those around you and encourage them to engage in conversation. People are begging for voices but feel awkward and stare at their phones in disbelief instead. It's time we start leading by example, and when we do, our children and those looking up to us will surely follow. 

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2. Eat without Your Phone

2. Eat without Your Phone

Perhaps the second most common place that I see people on their phones and electronic devices is in the comfort of dining tables and restaurants. As sad as it might sound, there is nothing I hate seeing more than a family gathered around a table, but their heads buried in the conversations on their screens rather than the voices at the table.

I don't know when we started engaging in this behavior, but if we began eating meals without our phones, this would encourage and motivate kids to do the same. Instead of typing or texting away 24 hours a day, seven days a week, try talking to those across the table with you. Engage in meaningful conversations, say a prayer together, give thanks, and talk about your day.

In Acts 2:42, the Word states, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

Remember when He ate with His Disciples in the Upper Room the night before He was crucified? At the place of a table, Jesus broke bread and poured wine symbolically as He delighted in fellowship with those who would soon betray Him.

Today, when we eat meals with others, give them your full attention, time, and effort. It doesn't take much to eat and be present with someone, but it means everything.

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3. Limit Screen Time with Goal-Setting

3. Limit Screen Time with Goal-Setting

Finally, one of the most enticing ways I have found to encourage kids to put down their phones is through personal goals and ambitions.

I make it a goal to use my phone for less than three hours a day simply because it is something I have set for myself. If I go over that time, I don't beat myself up but rather analyze how I have been using my hours and minutes. 

Through limiting screen-time with goals, kids can set their phones with limits for individual apps or strive to use their phone less in general. Even if I am reading the Bible or texting a friend back, I try to use my laptop to minimize distractions, and I am more present with those around me. 

This might sound simple, but you would be amazed how rejuvenated and energized your mental state is when you spend more time socializing physically than staring at a screen in your hand. While COVID-19 makes this challenging, reaching out by phone call and taking a walk can help healthily implement these changes. 

For younger kids, incentives are also good motivators if personal goals don't work. Offering small rewards, trips to town or the park, or activities, for example, usually propel kids to set and make goals they wish to accomplish, rather than merely agreeing to complete because you've demanded it.

Motivating kids to put down their phones is not easy, but it does start with you! By leading by example, eating without your phone, and limiting screen-time with goals, children will learn to see the benefits of human interactions over virtual ones.

Remember to be careful how you spend your time and invest in things that matter most. 

"O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah" (Psalm 39: 4-5, ESV).

"The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away" (Psalm 90:10, ESV).

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amber ginter headshotAmber Ginter is an aspiring 25-year-old writer that currently works as an English teacher in Chillicothe, Ohio, and has a passionate desire to impact the world for Jesus through her love for writing, aesthetics, health/fitness, and ministry. Hoping to become a full-time freelancer, Amber seeks to proclaim her love for Christ and the Gospel through her writing, aesthetic ministry team (Aisthitikós Joy Ministries), and volunteer roles. She is also the author of The Story I've Never Told, which is currently in the publishing process. Amber has freelanced for Daughter of Delight, Kallos, Anchored Passion, Crosswalk, No Small Life, Darling Magazine, Called Christian Writers, Southern Ohio Today News, The Rebelution, Ohio Christian University, and The Circleville Herald. Visit her website at amberginter.com.