In my Family Law practice, I frequently hear about communication and family issues arising as a result of too much cell phone usage. While we’re all guilty of at least occasionally picking up our phones during dinner or scrolling absentmindedly through emails during a conversation, if left unchecked, too much cell phone usage during family time can have serious consequences.

Here's what area family therapist Gary Watson, LMSW, has to say on the effects of too much cell phone usage on relationships, in his blog entry “Smart Phones and Relationships: A counselor’s perspective.” An excerpt follows:

“Cell phones come up in my counseling sessions on a regular basis, mostly in marriage counseling. Today was another example. Meeting with a couple, I asked one of them how they will notice when things are getting better between them and the answer was that the spouse would put their cell phone away while they were out together. I hear this complaint a lot when counseling couples. If it isn’t cell phones, then it’s tablets, iPads, and laptops. Many people feel frustrated when an electronic device gets more attention than they do, and rightly so.

I observe this with other people as well, we tend to let our phones take priority over the people we’re with. I’ve watched people interrupt a conversation with someone who is there face-to-face, in order to pick up their phone and have a conversation with someone else. Worse yet, I’ve watched people make unnecessary calls to other people when with someone else.

If you want to send someone the message they are not important to you, this is a good way to do it. However, be aware that sending this message may cause your friends or spouse who has high self esteem to leave, sometimes permanently. They may not bother to tell you why they don’t hang around anymore; many times, they just fade away and don’t make plans with you anymore.

Unfortunately, I see this all the time, parents ignore kids because they’re constantly checking cell phones, friends sit at a restaurant or coffee shop together and then text other people, husbands ignore wives by playing with cell phones when they could be spending quality time together.

I counsel a lot of people in my Grand Rapids counseling office who feel taken for granted by someone who doesn’t pay attention to them anymore. This can happen very easily if you’re not careful and the results can be serious.

On the other hand, if you want to send someone the message they are important to you, shut off your phone or at least silence it and put it away when with someone you care about. This is especially helpful with kids.”

To read the entire entry, or to see more of Gary Watson’s blog entries, click here.

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