Contributed By Larry Keefauver
“My whole family seems to be addicted to their mobile phones, electronic gadgets and the computer. How do we break this?”
~ Concerned parent
Instead of having face-to-face communication, many families nowadays talk with one another and others through online chat, e-mails, text messages, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with using these communication avenues, some warning signs and tips can be noted.
Communicating electronically has the benefit of expanding the ways we can talk to one another in families but it does not replace face-to-face communication. The danger can be that electronic communication replaces personal, face-to-face sharing and intimacy. Remember that non-verbal communication represents about 80 to 90 percent of the entire message. Hence, when all we send and receive from one another is a text or written material, the full communication is missing. Beyond that, dialogue which clarifies and responses immediately is also lacking when only written words are used.
Online and electronic communication can never impart the full non-verbal impact of tone of voice, facial expression, body language, gestures, appearance, eye contact, physical touch, etc. I realize that Skype does improve your online communication to some degree but it’s still not the same as talking together face-to-face.
Healthy boundaries are needed. So, what are healthy boundaries for a family to establish regarding electronic communication?
Don’t stop it. Texting and chat are a great way for family members to stay in touch with one another especially during the day when school, work, errands and different locations keep family members apart. But when family members are together at home, in the car or on an outing, set limits to the time spent on online communication.
Be proactive. Married couples need daily face-to-face, personal time together that is not interrupted by others, including children. This time can be spent on affirming one another, sharing books, Scripture and thoughts together, encouraging each other and praying together. If you don’t have this daily time together, then start small with five to 15 minutes daily. If necessary, spend your time together in personal sharing when children are asleep. Also, focus on positive things … leave your problem-solving and conflict resolution to other times. Starting with 15 positive, healthy and holy minutes daily together for a busy couple can profoundly increase intimacy and happiness in marriage.
Set family times together when the computers and smartphones are turned off! That’s right, give your full attention to one another at a meal, playing a game together, sharing a fun experience or outing. When with family members, give them your full attention. Set that phone on vibration mode or better still, turn it off. Listen to and share with family members without electronic communication interrupting you.
Set time limits for being on the computer. With adults and children alike, we all need times when we aren’t on the computer or phone. Let your messages go to voice mail. Return calls and e-mails on your schedule so you are not enslaved to the addiction of having to respond immediately.
The discipline of silence and solitude. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
This command holds an important truth for all of us. Constant noise, busyness, electronic communication and the rush of life invade our privacy and contaminate the quiet time we need for our own personal space and our time with God. Each person needs “down time” away from all electronic devices and even away from people so that we can practice the disciplines of silence, study, pray, meditation and contemplation. Richard Foster writes in The Celebration of Discipline, “Without silence, there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence” (p. 98). Spend time in God’s presence without your electronic device.
I also encourage you to set appointments with family members and friends if necessary, to proactively schedule personal, face-to-face time with them. Turn your electronic devices off. Share together. Such time develops relationships and deepens friendships in ways that electronic communication cannot.