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As much as we like to think we’re living exciting lives, doing things for the very first time and making, like, totally original discoveries, our parents have been there already and done everything before us (yes, even that).
With so much wisdom under their belt, they are often the best people to give advice on the problems and questions life throws in our direction. But what can we learn from them about social media, the one thing we’re likely to have more experience in than our seniors?
For anyone millennial-aged or younger, social media will have played a huge role in our childhoods. This is in stark contrast to the lucky generation who got to live their teenage years without the constant threat of an embarrassing tagged Facebook photo tracking their every move.
What, if anything, can our parents teach us about our phone use? We asked.
‘Take part in the life that’s happening around you’
Sophie Gallagher, Reporter
It has not escaped my notice that there’s a certain irony in having to Whatsapp my mum to speak to her for this article because I won’t be seeing her in person for a couple of weeks. Since having left home, text communication has been the primary way I keep in contact with my closest family – my mum and sister – and we’re all eternally grateful for the way technology helps us feel closer to each other when in reality we’re thousands of miles apart. But how does my mum actually feel about the way my sister and I use our phones?
“I don’t think of you using it a lot, but maybe that’s because when we are together we pay more attention to each other,” she tells me. I’m relieved to hear she hasn’t been seething over my phone use for years without mentioning it. Although she does say phones at mealtimes is a complete no no – “concentrate on the food and the company.” I rack my brain for all the Christmas dinners I’ve spent with my phone on the table. Awkward.
Despite working in the tech sector, my mum doesn’t use social media. She doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account and only recently got Instagram (after much encouragement from her daughters who were tired of her having to stalk via Safari when she wanted to see our pictures). But even this habit is curtailed by the fact she only follows 10 accounts so isn’t endlessly scrolling.
She said: “I love my phone and it’s a source of so much information and entertainment but my view would be it’s healthier to put it away at certain times and take part in the life that’s happening around you.” I’m with her on that.
One thing I do agree with her on is the benefit we might all get from looking up a little more. “I watch people on the tube and almost everyone is focused on their phone, which I don’t like. It’s the same as walking along the street and staring at a phone.” A habit I also find beyond infuriating – now I see where I get it from.
‘Enforce a strict “no phones in the bedroom” policy.’
Amy Packham, Reporter
Last year, I became acutely aware of the amount of time I spent on my phone when I went home to visit my family. I would walk in the door – phone in hand – and sit on the sofa scrolling, while half-heartedly chatting to them. At some point, a switch flicked and I made a pact to myself to stop. The next time I went home, I left my phone on top of the bread bin.
I never pointed it out to my parents, but I was genuinely pleased when I asked them recently about my phone that they seemed to have picked up on it.
“In the past year I’d say your relationship with your phone has been very balanced,” my dad said. “I don’t see your phone in your hands when you’re with me,” said mum. I felt chuffed.
My parents have pretty healthy relationships with their phones. They use them mainly for calls and texts, spending the odd occasion posting to Facebook or Twitter. They’ve probably increased the amount of time they spend on the phone in recent years, but it’s not excessive.
By far the best lesson I could learn from them is their phone use at night. Unlike me, who will turn the light off, curl up in bed and start messaging friends or scrolling, my parents both have a strict “no phones in the bedroom” policy.
They leave them downstairs in the kitchen (if I ever need to contact them post 10pm, I have to phone the home phone). “It’s good to have a break from it,” my mum said. She also tries to enforce one room in the house (living room) where there are no phones. “It means people talk and don’t just scroll,” she says.
Whether I’ll be able to go completely cold turkey with my phone at night is a tough one, but now when I get into bed at night I’ve consciously tried to turn my phone on flight mode to avoid any incoming WhatsApp notifications. Instead, I try to read my book or journal. It’s going well so far, but it’s still early days.
‘You can have a conversation without referencing your phone ’
Nancy Groves, Life Editor
“You check your phone the way your brother checks the fridge,” my mum says. “As if it’s magically going to have filled up since the last time he opened it, five minutes ago.” To be clear, my brother and I are both well into our thirties and should have more self control. As for my mum, she only got a mobile when her family insisted she join the same century as us. Even then, it took me (her eldest child) moving to the other side of the world for her to switch it on.
Now she’s a pretty prolific texter, who likens her (not so) short and sometimes sweet messages to postcards – or on naggier days, Mrs Weasley’s Hogwarts howlers. Get an early night. Don’t forget to send that birthday card. Have you written your thank you letters? I’m 36.
Despite spending ages crafting these zingers with a single finger and bemoaning us if don’t always reply immediately, my mum wishes her children spent less time on their phones. I don’t even realise I’m scrolling Instagram in front of her, she observes, while the fridge-raiding son – now a father of two – needs to keep his screen time and their playtime as separate as possible.
She worries that young children have got so used to being photographed these days they’ve developed “phone face”: half fixed smile, half genuine fatigue at posing for yet another pic with their snap-happy parents.
Our youngest brother, still in his twenties, is more social media allergic (or so she thinks), but is incapable of having a conversation with her on any topic without referencing his phone. She wouldn’t keep pulling books off the shelf to show him, she says, so why does he make her watch endless YouTube?
Emojis, selfies, OMG/WTF abbreviations are against her religion. But she will admit she’s in more regular contact with her children than her parents were with her at the same age. This makes her happy. “Oh, and Nancy,” she says, as I get up to leave. “Don’t forget to message and let me know you’re home safe.”