real life

"I'm introducing a new rule for guests in my home, and if they don't follow it, they can leave."

Everyone’s entitled to set the rules for their own house. I’ve visited houses where I have to remove my shoes, had dinners where I have to thank the Lord for what I’m about to receive, where the food is kosher or halal, or the TV is never turned off. Your house, your rules.

And as of today, the rule for my house is: No mobile phone for guests. It’s simple. People who visit my house (and let’s face it, not only children) can’t regulate themselves, so I am going to regulate phone use for them.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my mobile phone. I’m a regular user of Facebook and Instagram and enjoy keeping up with friends and family and seeing what they’re up to. I like posting updates and fun snapshots of what my children (or, if I’m honest, my cats) are doing. Like many others, I use my phone as a crutch to entertain me when I’m bored or pissed off (Facebook rant, anybody?).

mobile phone rules
"Frankly, it makes me sad to see how phone use is increasingly sabotaging everyday social interactions." Image via iStock.

What I don’t do, however, is use my phone when I’m out with friends. I don’t want to and I don’t want them to either. Frankly, it makes me sad to see how phone use is increasingly sabotaging everyday social interactions. I’ve been to dinners in fancy restaurants where couples barely talk, each immersed in the mobile phone. And now it’s happening in my own house.

I’ve become almost inured to my friends who drop in with their kids giving them a phone or an iPad as a keep-them-quiet device. I understand the motivation of course (it shuts them up) but I think it’s a pity, as my own kids are sociable enough to mix and play with children they don’t know. I don’t expect a bunch of kids to go off on Tom Sawyer-like adventures together. But plonking them in front of a device means they don’t even have to raise their heads and speak.

But of course, it’s not only children they don’t know who come with the zombie technology, but also children they do. My son’s friends regularly arrive equipped with all kinds of i-thingies, which means they sit staring mutely at a screen. Parents often expect the host mother to ‘limit’ screen time, but try telling someone else’s ten-year-old boy that he can’t play on his iPad/iPod/iPhone any more and how about a board game instead. Unless you physically wrench it out of his possession and lock it in a cupboard, he will sulkily creep back to it the moment he can.

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I can cope with all of this – the unfamiliar kids who won’t interact with anything not on a screen, the playdates with friends who don’t really want to play. But the saddest thing of all occurred at a dinner at my house the other night when a group of my daughter’s friends, and their parents, came over for a social meal. As twenty-first century teenagers, all the girls had iPhones. Their younger siblings, without phones, played games with each other all night. Their parents had a happy, boozy dinner around the table while the teenagers – young, sweet, friends for ten years – basically ignored each other as they studied their devices, texted absent friends and updated their social media statuses. At the beginning of the evening I sweetly suggested that they shouldn’t be using their phones. They all smiled politely and put them away until I had left the room. Next time they will go in a locked box and not be returned until the end of the evening. My house, my rules.

mobile phone rules
I think all of us, parents and children alike, need to put the phone away. Image via iStock.

And before we wonder what kind of a world our kids are growing up in, let’s not assign all the blame to the children. I’ve been to dinners where adults spent the entire meal not so surreptitiously watching a football match on the phone. We’ve had weekends away where children AND parents spent the whole time sitting on a couch watching their devices.

I’ve had lunch with friends who give me their undivided attention until the distant ping of their phone (a new email! A picture of a cat on Messenger!) has them scrabbling around in their bag for a quick fix, and sat in cinemas where fellow movie-goers are unable to resist checking what’s happening on The Voice or their favourite reality TV show. Of course I understand the attraction - when I’m bored I turn to my phone to amuse me, but the point is I’m NOT bored when I’m socialising with friends.

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I think all of us, parents and children alike, need to put the phone away, and that will be the rule from now on in my house. If you can’t spend a few hours in my company without a phone, I don’t want to see you and I probably don’t need to, as I can follow what you’re doing on social media anyway.