I remember getting my first smartphone about seven years ago. It wasn’t much compared to what’s in the marketplace today, but I was mesmerized. I thought it was so amazing that you could text and email right off your phone and almost (emphasis on almost) browse the Web. Even at dinner. Even on vacation.

My family, however, was not nearly as amused. At dinner, they would tell me to put it away.

The novelty had not worn off on me, but there was no novelty at all to them. I really had a hard time understanding why it was such a problem.

That is until my wife and kids got their own phones, and I started feeling ignored. Suddenly, it dawned on me what they had been putting up with.

Technology is attractive, and as we said earlier, it’s not inherently evil. It can be used for good (even great) things. But you need to engage it intentionally.

Here’s why. Your children will tell you incessantly how much they want a phone, an iPad or a gaming system. What they won’t tell you is how much they want a relationship or how badly they need a relationship with you. And as parents, we can get so caught up in it all that we forget to fight for the heart of our spouses and children.

What I love about how my family responded to my first smartphone is that their instinct was to fight for their relationship with me. While I was connecting with lots of people, I wasn’t connecting with the most important people – my family. They fought for my heart. They were prioritizing the right things. I wish I had seen it earlier, but I’m so glad they saw it. And that they acted.

Over the last few years, we’ve made some changes in how we relate as a family in light of technology that is increasingly a part of our personal worlds.

Here are some things we do to make sure we stay connected as a family:

  • We shut off everything (except some background music) at dinner. No phones, no TV, just conversation and food. We try to eat at home together as a family 5-6 times a week.
  • We don’t use our phones in the car. Catch up on phone calls (handsfree, of course) when you’re alone, not when you’re with your spouse or kids. Being together in the car is a great chance to talk about things that you wouldn’t normally talk about. Similarly, I’ve never owned a vehicle with a DVD player in the back seats for that reason. Because we drive a lot, it probably adds 5 to 10 hours of quality time to our family life each week, not to mention some incredible road trip memories.
  • We play board games.
  • We look for activities to do together, whether that’s hiking, biking or boating. It gets us away and we invest in each other.
  • We have family and friends over – and linger over dinner.
  • We go on vacations together. It’s amazing to me how everyone instinctively puts their phones and other devices away when we’re on holiday. Sure, we google the next day’s activities, but vacation ramps up relationships very powerfully. Every year, we spend a week at a place where our phones don’t even work and there are no TVs. My kids call it their favourite place on earth.

Disconnecting like this helps us connect with each other.

How about you? What do you do to help you stay connected with each other?