I've been addicted to my iPhone for years but it wasn't until my teenage son pointed it out that I decided to take action and build an app called Glued to help families like ours reduce screen time and incentivise device-free family time.
A year ago, we were sitting down to dinner after a row where I'd confiscated Finn's iPad. I'd lost my cool after endlessly calling him to the dinner table. "Finn, dinner time!... Finn, dinner time!... Finn!". Nothing... He was zoned in. Either he was invading a Clash of Clans fort, watching some twit on YouTube playing Fifa or scrolling through selfies of his school mates on Instagram. He was Glued.
Finally, all sitting around the dinner table as a family, "bleep bleep!" some notification from Twitter or Facebook from my own phone. Mistakenly I pulled it out to check, after all it could be an important email. "Dad, you're such a hypocrite! I bet you spend more time on your iPhone than I do on my iPad." Erm... Well... Quickly trying to think of a good reason why I had to check it I floundered. He's right. I'm Glued too.
Lead by example: if I can't manage to put my own phone away for an hours family dinner time then why should I expect my son to do the same? Maybe parents need parental controls too? I want to reduce my own screen time, not just because I want to be a better parent but because I'm happier offline. I know this because since that dinner table moment Nicole (my wife), Finn and I have been making much more of an effort to regularly take time out from our devices together. More country walks and family reading time.
It takes effort to break bad smartphone habits. Like immediately reaching for my phone as soon as I wake up; wasting hours following other people's lives on Facebook, endlessly checking my phone on the go, in a lift, when queuing for lunch or coffee, pretty much any time I have a spare moment.
That's why I made Glued. Glued monitors how much time all members of the family spend on screens and help us to self-moderate via gentle reminders: 7:30pm: "Nick, you've spent 2 hours, 20 minutes on your iPhone today. Switch it off and unglue with the family instead?" (I have mine setup to ignore work hours otherwise the screen time would be much more!). It turns out that Nicole spends very little time on her phone (30 mins max per day) with Finn and I alternately hitting 2-3 hours a day. I check my phone the most - around 60-70 times every day.
We've now made our bedroom a device-free zone. I no longer use my phone as an alarm clock. It sits, with all the other devices, charging in the living room at night. I found just having it next to the bed enough of a distraction to keep checking it every few minutes. If it's out of reach or even better out of sight I tend to forget about staying 'always online', relax and enjoy more time with my wife and family.
Average Human Attention Span: Since the invention of the smartphone, the average human attention span has dropped to eight seconds. That's one second less than a goldfish! It's not that surprising really, considering the endless noise of these apps in our pocket competing for our attention. Virtual farms that need regular watering, candy to be crushed, competing for likes on our social network personas. It's amazing we have any time left to enjoy real life.
So what's the alternative to screen time? Sure, reading and board games instantly come to mind - I can already hear the sigh of a million kids! Why is that? Has the excitement of apps and online games dulled kids enjoyment of alternatives. In a word, yes! As parents we need to be less concerned by our kids getting bored if they digital detox for a day or weekend. What we've discovered is that after the initial bored phase Finn eventually starts finding alternatives to his Xbox and iPad. He starts using his imagination and starts communicating more with us! Let them get bored and they might even talk to you a little more!
A bit more about Glued: As well as tracking screen time, Glued rewards points for less screen time and displays a family leaderboard so that we can see how well we're doing against one another each day. If mum or dad's less glued you can still motivate your kids beat you by setting a lower time limit for yourself.
Points and Rewards: One of the most common questions we get asked is "What do I get to do with my points?" In short, not much at the moment, apart from the satisfaction of beating the rest of your family at Glued. However, that's set to change in the next few months. We want Glued to offer up great local alternatives to screen time for families like trips to activity adventure parks and camping weekends. Imagine a family setting the kids a points target or even better a collaborative points target where they promise a trip to a theme park as a reward at the end of it.
We live in a western world where it's not uncommon to regularly spoil kids even outside birthdays and Christmas. Yet with eight million daily family arguments over screen time in the UK alone why not find a way to address both issues. A healthier relationship with tech, less device dependency, more sport and family face-to-face time. That's why we made Glued.