Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 7, 2013

Mental Wellness: A few thoughts before cellphones destroy us

Local columnist

---- — My wife and I played Texas Hold ‘em on our phones almost every evening for a year.

It all started with me being terrible at poker at a family gathering. In some ways I felt that my manhood and my academic abilities were put to shame. The next year my final poker hand came down to me and the other family member. Although I lost the hand after going all in, it was luck and not skill that determined my fate.

Cellphones have changed the way we interact with the world, information and others. They keep us connected, keep us from fighting about directions and allow us to remain entertained while sitting in a waiting room, even if the available magazines are terrible.

Yet, they also divide us from others and we sometimes are distracted when we should be engaged. Here are a few tips for navigating social nuances. I won’t be addressing parent’s and kid’s interactions, because that could be an article of its own. Instead here are a few steps to guide cellphone use among peers, friends, co-workers, and spouses.

Set an example

“I’m going to put my phone on vibrate so I’m fully engaged with you.” This is a great way to demonstrate what your hope is for a conversation or time with another person. Others feel liberty to be on their phones if you are on yours, even if your reason is important. Working to personally be fully engaged in conversations helps others to feel permission and encouragement in putting down their own phone.

Talk reflects relationship

Hopefully talking to a spouse is different than talking with an acquaintance. The way we talk to and correct people should be reflective of our relationship with them. Thus, if someone is on their phone more often than you prefer, evaluate your relationship with them and the way you express concern or potential improvements should match that relationship.

Remember basic courtesy

Each generation, culture, and gender views cellphone usage differently. There will inevitably be conflicts. Yet, when people make time for one another, that time should be the priority, unless expressed. For example, if I knew I was waiting for a phone call or text, I would let the other person know that, so they understood my distraction. What we spend our time on reflects what we value, as a result engaging in time on the phone when we’re with others can make them feel like they are second to whatever is engaging us on the phone.

As we set an example for what we hope for, talk about expectations within the context of the relationship, and remember basic courtesy we will improve relationships with others and our cell phones and maybe help us with Texas Hold ‘em at family gathering.

Joseph R. Sanok is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City. He helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples. He also has a love/hate relationship with his cell phone.