When we refer to “phubbing” (a combination of the words phone and snubbing) we’re talking about when people neglect or ignore others in favor of using their smartphone (or tablets or other digital devices). Typically it happens when we’re texting, browsing social media, or playing games.
Phubbing doesn’t only occur with casual acquaintances or friends. In fact, it may be even more common among family members, with whom we feel more familiar and less obliged to abide by social norms. Mealtimes and evenings are opportunities for families to engage, but instead everyone is often in their own bubbles, ignoring everyone else.
Worth the price?
These behaviors have a real and serious cost.
By giving priority to remote and virtual interactions over our family members who are physically present, we damage our family atmosphere. Phubbing closes us off, each in our own world. It dulls feelings of affection in our relationships and prevents us from talking to each other about the things that matter to us. Phubbing also makes us habitually rude and implicitly tells the others, without words, that the banal and dispensable demands of digital entertainment are more important than family.
Prioritizing digital devices over spending quality time with family can lead to feelings of abandonment, frustration, and disconnection among family members. It hinders communication, bonding, and an overall sense of togetherness.
What we all really need
Children need to talk to their parents about a wide variety of issues. They want to feel supported, understood, and loved. Those needs can’t be met if mom and dad are constantly busy scrolling through social media. And it’s a lot harder to hug your kids when you’re clinging to a phone.
Parents suffer, too, because they share the same basic needs for love and support that their kids have. Those are needs that can’t be met by even the most sophisticated device. Only other people can respond to these deep human needs, and a family is the primary place where that dynamic happens.
That’s why it’s so important to address the issue of phubbing directly, perhaps through a group conversation or by opening up lines of communication that can help all family members establish healthy boundaries and help them rediscover the joys of interacting with each other.
Fortunately, there are strategies that can help.
Strategies to prevent phubbing and build family relationships
- Mark specific areas or times in which digital devices are not to be used in your home, such as during meals or family gatherings. You might have a basket where everyone places their phones during this time. The ultimate goal is to spend more time paying attention to our family members and less time on our devices.
- Parents and elders should be role models: They should provide an example of the behavior they would like to see in others. When younger family members see that you are serious about staying off your device, they will be more likely to do the same, especially when they realize that you are being more attentive to them.
- Propose regular activities to encourage interaction and engagement among family members. These could include board game or card game nights, time spent together outdoors, or even simple activities such as cooking together.
- Encourage your family members to share with each other. A grandparent could relay a bit of family history, for instance. Or you can go around the table and ask everyone what their perfect dream vacation spot would be and why. Younger children can read aloud a book they really like or show an artwork that they have made. These moments don’t have to be especially elaborate, and they may not always be successful, but family communication and relationships can only grow with practice.
- If these steps are helping, then try proposing that devices not be kept in bedrooms — where supervision and accountability are almost impossible. Again, parents need to be role models in this. Ideally, TVs and video game consoles should be centralized and in plain sight. Playing games or watching movies or TV shows together can help build a stronger family culture, especially when they are discussed afterwards.
With these guidelines as a starting point, we can start to rebuild our family culture. As we interact, we will grow to know, understand, and appreciate each other more.
As digital isolation disappears, authentic family life will take shape: the reward will be greater peace and family wisdom.