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Unplugging in a Plugged in World

Host Family Tips

Raise your hand if you’re trying to be Supermom. Superdad? Yeah, that is what I suspected. It’s tough to care for your family, your spouse and your ailing dad while also killing it at your job and, if you’re lucky, hitting the gym or reading a good book. 

In an effort to “do it all,” you’ve probably found that your smartphone is your new best friend ( second only to your awesome au pair). Without it, it would be mighty hard to save the day for your boss on a Sunday (thus solidifying that raise), make dinner reservations or schedule your son’s fifth birthday party. Yet that same amazing device can quickly invade family time. Dinner? Well, let me just take a peek at this email… Family movie night? Let me see if I can find some photos of my college roomie’s new baby… It starts small, but soon ‘just checking in’ can take over your life. 

So why do you need to keep that device time in check? Because the kids need you, for one. It’s not quantity time with them, it’s quality - so make the most of it and make sure they can see your eyes, not just the top of your head while you are typing. Stanford University psychiatrist Dr. Elias Aboujaoude has found that “people ‘lose the ability to be in the moment’ when they're bombarded by messages they feel compelled to react to”, according to this excellent article. So how can you be in the moment? Get on the floor, play a game and engage them in a conversation. It doesn’t take long and will make a big impact. Connecting with your kids also will help you understand how things are going with school, friends or sports. Keeping the lines of communication will improve the overall harmony of your house and send the message to your children that they are your priority.

Just as important is the example that your device use sets for your child – and your au pair. Do you expect that they will pay attention when you give them instructions? Complete tasks they are given (like folding laundry or homework)? Should they be engaged with your kids instead of checking out Facebook? Then model the same. Just as you demonstrate table manners or greetings, showing them how to manage a wired device is crucial to their development. Leave your device in another room during dinner, and don’t pick it up. Ever. Take a cue from the ‘device game’ played in restaurants across the country and make a rule that if anyone does pick up their phone during dinner, they are in charge of dishes. In my experience, scrubbing congealed cheese and a sauce-burned pot will change a behavior quickly. The same rule goes for concerts, plays or other venues where device use would be considered inappropriate. Finally, while it should go without saying, leaving your device alone while driving is crucial. It’s never too early to model safe driving, and driving while texting (or surfing!) is just not safe. 

The reward will go well beyond a happier home. You’ll get immense enjoyment from laying off the digital devices as well. In her blog post “How to Disconnect to Connect”, author Christine Gross-Loh sums up the experience. “I felt liberated from the niggling guilt I felt about the distraction I was modeling to my kids, and cherished the childish hugs I was now able to respond to with all my being”.

Mobile devices are changing our world, and can be a lifesaver, especially for working parents. There are plenty of times when using your device can save you time and money, and free you up to be with your family. So don’t squander that newfound time on Candy Crush – use it to engage with your kids and be a true superhero to them.

Erika Clark is a Senior Marketing Coordinator at Intrax and former Area Director for AuPairCare.  Erika has extensive personal and professional experience in cultural exchange, having worked with and hosted au pairs and exchange students.  Her family is currently hosting their second au pair from Brazil. 

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