A lot of free time these days is spent online, watching TV or playing video games. In fact, the amount of time we spend engaging with screens is increasing every year. You want to hangout with your loved ones, and you want to watch your favorite shows. Why not do them together?
The most basic answer is that you’re not actually spending time together. If we’re honest, interacting with a screen is different than holding up our end of a conversation. Screen-time is a form of consuming- someone else produces content and you take it in. Conversation, playing games or going for a walk is a form of creation; you have to offer input and energy in order to do those activities. While these things take more resources from you, the reward for creative endeavors is higher levels of fulfillment. Not every stroll around the block is life changing, but you certainly will experience more long-term satisfaction when you interact with the world.
The second consideration is that spending relational time using screens actually costs you time with a partner, child or friend. If you watched a TV show alone, then you would probably consider playing a game with your child later that day. However, spending time watching TV together gives the illusion that you’ve spent time together when you haven’t actually gotten much out of it. Instead of connecting later, you may find yourself reading a book alone or going out. To your child, spouse or friend it will feel like you haven’t had time to bond that day, and you haven’t.
Good relationships require regular upkeep. This can range from checking in with one another to sharing a conversation, a meal or a project. A good rule of thumb is if you can talk while doing the activity it will strengthen your connection. This is why you sometimes find guys working on things together in the garage. They may not feel comfortable sharing what’s going on sitting around the kitchen table, but if they can work on something or shoot pool they often find themselves opening up.
Third, you’ve probably had enough screen-time today already. When we factor in smartphones, work emails, waiting room TVs, the evening news and so on, our daily intake of screen time is often higher than we realize. While screen-time can make our lives run smoothly and efficiently, it also taxes our brains. Taking a break can lead to better emotional regulation. An easy way to naturally ease out of screen time is to set aside relational time as “screen-free.” Many people do this by silencing their phones during meals, turning off the TV while they talk, or reserving the time after dinner for outdoor games instead of playing them with friends online. Making a commitment to yourself to not be distracted when you are with those you love will ease some guilt about being two places at once, and will make those in your life feel like the honored friends, family and spouses they are.