5 Simple Ways to Reduce Time Spent Looking at Your Phone

Raise your hand if you are guilty of spending entirely too much time on your smartphone...

With technology putting everything at our finger tips - from news to Solitaire, grocery shopping to checking the weather - it makes our smart phone usage almost impossible to avoid. We mindlessly scroll social media and Pinterest making mental lists of things we are going to start doing - eat better, become more organized, save money - and then have the hardest time actually doing anything.

I set my phone down to throw a load of laundry in and from across the room hear the ding of a new text message. I stop what I'm doing, respond to the text (because not responding to texts is a huge pet peeve of mine) and then get sucked in to the black hole of Instagram, Instagram stories and Facebook just to keep the little red notifications off my screen. And then, that laundry? Well it is still sitting there, unwashed, and I begin to feel frazzled about how much I have to do and its a big ugly spin cycle of my very own making.

If you can relate, then like me, you have also probably deleted social media apps from your phone but not before announcing "I'm taking a social media break" across all platforms (insert eyeroll here). I'm eyerolling not only for the annoying, cliche declaration but also because the social media fast rarely lasts longer than a hot minute. It's just SO hard!

I wouldn't take it so far as to call it an addiction, but for many it teeters close to the edge. So how can we address it? I've tried many things to limit my own time on my phone. Here are a few simple ways that have significantly helped keep my screen time in check:

  1. Turn off notifications -- Those small red dots on every app seem to scream "Look at me! Pay attention! Check this out!" It drives me crazy to have them there and even if I don't necessarily pay attention to the content it is flagging, it still takes time to clear them. Turning them off has definitely impacted my phone usage. On iPhones, go to Settings then Notifications and toggle "Allow Notifications" to the off position. If there are certain apps that you simply need to receive notifications from (like email for instance), you can manage the settings by each individual app as well.
  2. Move social media apps into a folder or off your home screen -- It seems kind of silly, but by simply grouping Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest into a folder on the 2nd page of my phone, it makes the accessibility a little less convenient. Kind of goes with the out of sight out of mind theory. If they aren't staring at you from the home screen each time you pick up your phone then perhaps you won't be so inclined to open the apps.
  3. Set screen time limits -- Apple recently introduced it's own monitoring capabilities on iPhones. Under Settings, Screen Time, you can see just how much you are on your phone. It breaks it down into categories and you can also see it by app. Just checking in here daily helps put things into perspective, but if you need to take it a step further you can even set limits for yourself.  "Downtime" allows you to set a specific time frame for not using your phone or you can set limits for specific apps. Bonus: this can be done for each iPhone/iPad user connected through Family Sharing which makes setting limits for kids super easy! If you don't have an iPhone, there are many apps that will monitor screen time and allow you to set limits as well.
  4. Be intentional with your time -- Try making a schedule for yourself every day. Build specific tech/phone time into your schedule. For instance, set a goal that you will allow yourself a leisurely social media scroll while drinking your morning coffee but then not again until later in the day. If the evening hours are tougher for you then commit to doing something like a workout, a bath or reading a new book for at least an hour.
  5. Leave your phone at home -- When all else fails, just leave your phone where you can't use it. I can't tell you how many times I have left home to run errands only to realize I accidentally forgot my phone. After that initial panic wears off ("how will I know the best way to Target without Waze?", "what if someone important calls me?", "I'll have to actually use my debit card instead of my Apple Pay?!?!") I remember there once was a time these tiny computers didn't exist and we made it just fine. I bet you will even enjoy being without it after a while. 

Technology is a way of life these days. I use my phone for more than just browsing social media -- important things like being accessible if the kids are sick at school, answering emails and paying bills on the go. I do not think it is realistic to think adults (and even kids at this point) should not be using smartphones, but when overusing them becomes an unhealthy habit, we need to make sure we are capable of addressing that habit just as we would anything else. 

Anyone brave enough to check your iPhone for you current usage time and share in the comments? No judgement here I promise!

When It Comes to Friends, Here is What My Son with Physical Differences Needs

When kids are little, and learning to navigate the big world full of all kinds of people, they depend on us to guide them. To show them that things like our skin color, our size, our disabilities, are not things we use to determine if we can play with a person at the park or speak to at the store. We do this by exposing them to all kinds of people and modeling behavior that does not put a barrier between us and those who are different. 

As kids get older and begin to develop their own likes, dislikes, and personalities - when they can exercise an ability to choose with whom they connect and want to be around - we hope that we have done our job so that they are naturally drawn to people based on their character and not their physicality. That their friend group is diverse and interesting. But sometimes, at no fault of their own, they simply aren’t ever exposed to individuals who are much different from them. The desire to reach out beyond the small group of friends they have from soccer or their neighborhood crew slows down. And while it may not be intentional, they begin to let go of friends who aren’t into the same things or part of the same crowd...or those who are different. 

What does this mean for a child with special needs? Unfortunately it means that friendships for our kids often fizzle out in upper elementary and early middle school. Kids who once cast a much wider net while building friendships, one that may have included the kid with autism or a hearing aid or a birth defect, now feel pressure to “fit in” rather than stand out. So befriending those that do (stand out) does not come easy. 

I get it. I remember being there. I also remember my parents always telling me to be kind to everyone no matter what. I sat with the kid on the school bus who was being made fun of for his speech impediment and told those kids to buzz off. I helped the quiet girl who dropped her books in the rain. I didn’t always do the right thing, but those times I didn’t stick with me to this day. There was a girl in middle school who used a walker. I am not sure exactly why but from what I could tell it seemed she had limited use of her lower limbs. One day in chorus she had a small accident. She sat behind me and I vividly remember her motioning for the teacher so she could tell her what happened. She started to cry and soon others began to notice the wet spot on her pants and chair. Kids laughed and shouted and pointed and although I didn’t, I also didn’t help or try to get the others to stop. Sure, I knew to be kind and how NOT to be unkind, but what that girl really needed was a friend. 

Now, with children of my own I worry once again about the upcoming middle school years, particularly for Aiden, my 5th grader who has a rare craniofacial condition. If you don’t know about Apert syndrome (and you likely won’t if you don’t know us personally), it includes marked physical differences in his face, hands and feet. He’s had more than a dozen medically necessary surgeries to improve breathing, address vision and hearing issues and more major ones that have changed his appearance in a drastic way. 

Friendships don’t always come easy for Aiden. When he was younger, kids were usually scared of his appearance initially and it wasn’t until someone forced the interaction that he would be included. My husband and I have always had friends who encourage their kids to get to know Aiden and treat him like any other kid and we are forever grateful for those relationships. Those have taken the sting out many times over the years. 

Once Aiden got older and began attending school, he needed to navigate it on his own. In the early years it only took a visit from mom to the classroom and an opportunity to ask questions for kids to no longer think of Aiden as different. Later on, though, there was a distinct shift in the friendship department. The kids who were kind at school were establishing friendships beyond the classroom and for the most part, they didn’t include Aiden. There were the occasional party invites and play dates initiated by a kind mom wanting to encourage her child to be inclusive. But those often became painfully awkward like one instance where the kid complained “I didn’t want to be here but my mom made me” when Aiden had him over to hang out. 

Are kids kind to Aiden? Most of the time, yes! And I’m very appreciative for the time spent by caring parents reminding their kids to be kind to the kids who are “different.” Do I want more than surface friendships for my son? Absolutely. 

Kids with differences do not need to be included for the sake of being included. If you think you are doing the “right thing” by inviting my child to a party when your child does not actually want him there, you’re not. Your intentions, while good, can make things worse. He can tell when he’s not wanted somewhere or when his invite was an afterthought. He knows. 

What he needs is genuine friendships with kids who truly see beyond his differences. He needs parents who encourage their kids to do just that. He needs just a friend or two - not even a whole group - who want him to hang out after school playing video games or go to the movies on the weekend. He needs kids who accept him as he is - as we all are - fearfully and wonderfully made. He needs kids who enjoy being with him for his silly personality and ability to name (and do)  every Fortnite dance. 

My child with physical differences does not need pity. He does not need friends who are forced to invite him to social functions by well-meaning parents. I cannot always tell a genuine friendship at first and thus doing so is even more difficult for him. But I promise I would rather him have no friends at all than fake ones. The thought of either breaks my heart in two, but it is a reality I think about more and more. Each night I pray my sweet boy will be lucky enough to make a few genuine and lasting friendships. He deserves that connection. After all, isn’t that what we all want for our children?

So yes, I encourage parents to continue the conversations on kindness. Keep discussing differences and acceptance and inclusion. But also take it a step further. Remind them that kids with differences want the same things they do. Ask them to truly make an effort to get to know others who may be a bit different. They might find those kids have more to offer than they realize. As my favorite book Wonder says, “it’s not enough to be friendly, you have to be a friend.” 

Disney's Disability Access Services Pass: A Review

This past winter break, we visited my parents at their condo in Sand Key, FL near Clearwater Beach. We surprised the boys with a package of goodies a few days before we were planning to leave to break the news. Inside were fleece Mickey Mouse pajamas, Special Edition Mickey Oreos and Goldfish crackers (that I just happened to stumble upon on a Clearance rack at Target...score!), our Disney Magic Bands and customized water bottles sent to us from our Disney travel guru Susan Patel of Off to Neverland Travel.

We had been to Disney World when Ethan and Aiden were little - 3 and 4 I believe - and this would be Hudson and Nolan's first time, so it was sure to be an exciting trip for everyone. Our plan was to stay in Sand Key for several days, then drive to Disney World for a day trip and back to their condo 2 hours away for a couple days before making the drive back to Kentucky. With only 1 day in the park and having a few park hopper passes we knew we needed help to make the most of our time at Disney which is why we were so thankful for Susan's help! She took care of everything from attaching our ticket information to our Magic Bands to scheduling our Fast Passes in advance. It was great!

A few months in advance, I contacted Disney to learn more about their Disability Access Services Pass. Aiden has pretty severe ADHD and that coupled with the unique structure of his surgically separated toes makes waiting in lines almost unbearable for him (and for anyone having to wait with him). I was not sure if having Apert syndrome and ADHD would qualify him for the DAS pass, but after reading the guidelines provided on Disney's site, I felt comfortable seeking this assistance to make our trip more enjoyable. Besides, Aiden is stared at enough as it is, so the thought of subjecting him to long lines of people constantly gawking for anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours helped justify the need as well.
On the Monorail heading in to Magic Kingdom!
When we arrived at the park, we were instructed to head to a Guest Relations window to discuss getting the DAS pass. We already had Fast Pass selections - you can schedule your first 3 Fast Pass times up to 30 days in advance of your day at the park and this was done for us by Susan Patel as well. We weren't sure if we could utilize both the DAS pass and the Fast Pass system and if that provided any additional benefit. Oh boy it did!

After a quick conversation and introducing Aiden to the Guest Relations Personnel, they added the DAS designation to each of our Magic Bands. This allowed us to access and make changes to our DAS and Fast Pass selections on the app on my phone, which automatically loaded to our Magic Bands for scanning at each ride.

She explained that just like a Fast Pass, you would have to visit the attraction you wanted to ride and receive a return time. However, the DAS could be used in conjunction with a Fast Pass meaning we could get both a DAS return time AND a Fast Pass return time for the same OR different rides concurrently. For example, we were able to schedule a Fast Pass return time of 8:30 for one ride, and a DAS return time of 9:00 for the same ride if we knew we would want to ride something more than once. One extra feature of the DAS pass is that you are able to return and ride once at the time assigned or anytime thereafter for the rest of the day, whereas with a Fast Pass you must ride between the designated return time frame given (8-9am, for instance) or entrance is forfeited. Like the Fast Pass, you are still only allowed to schedule the next one once the current admittance is used, but if you plan well, you can look at wait times and park location of attractions ahead of time and decide pretty quickly which one you'd like to try to snag next. Finally, the person with the DAS pass needs to be the one securing the DAS return time and must ride the ride.

We made it!
When we entered the park, we made our way to our first two Fast Pass destinations, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and Space Mountain. These are two of Magic Kingdom's main attractions so our travel agent knew to secure these first as part of the 3 we got to schedule ahead of time. The boys LOVED both and after riding Space Mountain, they wanted to ride again. So...we visited the cast member near the ride entrance and scheduled a DAS return time which was in just 20 minutes! What a time saver considering the line was already over 60 minutes long! We squeezed in a ride with a short wait time - Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland - then got right back on Space Mountain for a second time. It was great!

Astro Orbiter
Afterwards, we still had plenty of time to make it across the park to our final Fast Pass ride, Splash Mountain. We stopped and grabbed popcorn to snack on as we took in one of the character shows taking place in front of the castle. Everything was going great until...

I told the boys we needed to head to Space Mountain to make our time slot and didn't see a low curb surrounding the area in front of the castle due to the amount of people stopped taking in the show. My ankle rolled, I heard a 'POP' and down I went. Ugh. We had only been in the park for a little over an hour at that point. The boys were so worried about me and I knew they were afraid this would put a huge damper on our only day at Disney. A cast member quickly came to my side and asked if I was okay and if I wanted him to call an ambulance. I already had hundreds of people staring at me since I was facing the direction of everyone watching the show so I said "no thank you!" to the ambulance. An EMS guy asked me some questions and even though I knew it was injured pretty bad - either a bad sprain or possibly broken - I was NOT going to ruin our Disney adventure.  They wrapped my ankle with ice and an ace bandage, got me some Ibuprofen a wheel chair and off we went! We could still make it to the Fast Pass time for Splash Mountain! I of course wasn't going to ride, but no sense in the boys not making it on!
Back to the spot where I broke my ankle :( Stupid curb!
Unfortunately, the wheel chair was not the kind that I could elevate my foot and after an hour or so I decided it was probably best to head to the First Aid building to raise it up for a bit to prevent further swelling. I got a fresh ice pack there as well and as I was changing it out, one of the workers took a look and said I probably should get an x-ray. They arranged transportation to a local walk-in emergency clinic. Nolan and my mom came with me while the other 3 boys and Ricky stayed behind to continue having fun. In fact, while we waited at the doctors office, he called to tell me that the DAS pass got them on the Avatar ride - one that typically has a 4-6 hour wait - in 15 minutes! I call that a HUGE win.

Six hours later...an x-ray confirmed...broken fibula at the ankle. :( It was getting late but we were able to make it back to Magic Kingdom a few minutes before the firework display started. Ricky and the boys met back up with us and although the rides were still open for a few more hours, we decided we should probably get on the road back to Sand Key. My foot was throbbing and I was so over being pushed around in a wheel chair in the crowds of people (which was no easy task for whoever had to do the pushing either).
This was before the swelling was even at its worst!
While our day at Disney didn't go quite as expected, the cast members were very eager to help and have made sure that we can come back to have a do-over at some point ;) When we come back to Disney, we will definitely be getting the DAS pass again. I truly feel that children with Apert syndrome deserve this extra convenience to make their time at Disney less stressful and extra special. I am grateful that Disney recognizes the need for a service like this and provides accommodations for individuals with varying needs.
Even leaving earlier than expected, everyone was worn out!
If you or a family member would like to learn more about the services available for individuals with disabilities or special needs, visit the Disney Parks Disability Access Service Card Fact Sheet.

If you would like to reach out to Susan Patel for help planning your Disney experience, you can email her at susan.patel@offtoneverland.com. Susan is a friend of mine - our kids go to the same school - so if you do, tell her Taryn @ More Skees Please sent you!