Turn Phone Addiction into Family Time

Smartphone junkies make me think of streams, lakes, and rivers, because they’re all pretty predictable. Water always flows down. No exceptions. Likewise, the digital natives among us are always grabbing for their phones. It’s compulsive. Even the toughest parents have trouble stopping it.

But remember: for thousands of years mills have converted water’s predictable behavior into something useful. And luckily, you can do the same thing with your kid’s smartphone addiction. I learned the trick at Mellow Mushroom.

Smartphone Standoff

We were out with five or six friends the first time we played smartphone standoff. It may have been my idea, but probably not. At the start of our meal, everyone set their phone facedown on the table. Whoever touched their phone had to buy everyone a round of drinks. That’s it. Best party game ever. Everyone gets nervous, conversation increases, and if you hold out long enough, you get free drinks.

Now I've realized my favorite party game is also a perfect tool for converting your kid’s attachment to their phone into family fun. Here are three ways to make it happen.

Photo credit: Ari Helminen via Visual hunt / CC BY

1. Family Dinner

The most obvious family application for the smartphone standoff is the dinner table. Family dinner is an elusive ideal. Every day there’s a chance you can gather your whole crew to munch on something nutritious and get real, substantive answers to your questions about their day.

But smartphones. Text parties. Snapchat sessions. Hence the standoff.

Make every member of the household set their phone at the center of the table. First to touch theirs during dinner does the dishes. Second cleans the table and sweeps. Third dusts the ceiling fans. You get the idea.

2. Family Road Trips

When you travel with babies, it’s okay to do pretty much anything to just survive the trip. Once your kids are conversant, though, road trips become great opportunities for quality time. The drive to grandma’s doesn't have to be a grim uplit scene of faces over tiny Netflix feeds. Call a standoff.

Phones go into the cupholders (make sure the cupholders are dry and clean, first), and the first to check for texts loses their vote on where to eat lunch. Maybe the next has to clean the windshield at the next gas stop.

Photo credit: gfred via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

3. Family Game Night

The best board and card games require focus. If your teenage teammate is too busy tapping at his phone to realize you’re out of spades, you might as well give up and check your own notifications.

There’s a better way. No matter what game you choose, adding a smartphone standoff will raise the stakes and keep your kids engaged for minutes and minutes.

If you choose Candy Land, touching your phone knocks you back ten spaces. If you choose Settlers of Catan, it costs you half your resource cards or even a whole freaking victory point. If you choose solitaire, it’s your fault family game night isn’t working.

The Catch

You knew there had to be a catch, and here it is. For the standoff to really work, everyone in the family has got to lay down their phone. Everyone. That means you. Keep breathing. Concentrate on how nice it’ll be when your kid’s addiction overpowers them and then just this once you get to pick the restaurant.


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Torch allows parents to put limits on the Internet so they can let their kids explore online without the worry. Check out Torch here: Web | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram