Mending the bonds our smartphones have weakened: 7 moves for restoration

Written by Jordan Hopkins
Published on March 05, 2021

“Daddy, play with me!” 

I broke my gaze from the phone screen. My eight-year-old son, feet planted, awaited my response. I knew I had two choices: Dig in my heels and tell him he can wait while I finish. Or I could stop and play. 

In that moment, I felt God telling me, “Remember, he’s your greatest investment.” 

So, I slipped the phone into my pocket and played with him. To be honest, our day was better from there. Our bond was stronger. Plus, I felt less stressed by breaking from the screen. 

The pull of my phone felt real at that moment. The desire to stay connected to news and social media felt strong. It was hard to break. It took the obstinate and loving stare of my son to shatter its spell. 

I’ve since explored and researched what the pull of the screen means for parents today. 

Breaking bonds and developing a connection

As Christian parents, we know the Bible is all about “breaking bonds”: the bondage of sin, selfishness, and anything opposite the fruit of the Spirit. 

But it’s our emotional and interpersonal bonds we are breaking with our smartphones. Most parents are super well-intentioned. From working to caring for our kids, we’re mentally and emotionally on all day. 

We need respite—even the Son of God himself sought places of rest and refuge from the crowds (see Mark 1:35). So, this is not an anti-rest message. 

Rather, it’s a restoration message. 

In “The Dangers of Distracted Parenting,” Erika Christakis covered this issue for The Atlantic. She’s an early-childhood educator and prolific writer who sees the increase of “tuned-out parents.” She explains how we are “constantly present . . . physically” with our kids but “less emotionally attuned.” 

She argues we are breaking relational bonds with the constant interruptions of smartphones. She calls this “technoference,” a term coined by psychologists who studied its effects on couples. 

Researchers found technoference increased “conflict” and dissatisfaction with life in general amongst adults. But, does it apply as heavily to children? In short, absolutely. 

One clinical psychologist put it this way: “Humans are born ready for connection.” 

Researchers have documented this give-and-take of parent-child bonding, communication, and feeling. It’s how we develop trust and empathy. God hardwired us for “connection” (remember Adam’s loneliness in the garden, though surrounded by paradise?). We seek human relationships and desire reciprocation. 

Recognizing the need for bonds and connection

In our newest resource at Techless, we explored our need to “live fully” by looking up from our screens to live. We also shared from Dr. Edward Tronic of Harvard this fascinating and heartbreaking study called the “Still Face Experiment.” 

In it, he has a caregiver interact lovingly with a baby through facial expression, talking, touching, and all the things parents do. But after a couple of minutes, the parent’s face goes still. She’s unresponsive. The baby notices. She squirms. Tries to get mom to engage. Eventually, she breaks down and cries. 

Thankfully, the study ends with the parent reconnecting and engaging with the child. The transformation is instant: smiles, playfulness, and the give-and-take of connection returns. 

And it’s this innate need for connection we’re breaking with our smartphones. Not that checking email or social media is wrong on its own. Rather, it’s our faces going “still” when we swipe, text, and read. 

Our human connection, if it were a fountain, diverts elsewhere and flows away from those thirsty for our love and into broken, digital cisterns. 

Restoring bonds with God and family

So, how do you limit technoference? How do you fight for those important connections with your children? 

Here are some biblical insights and practical next steps to restore bonds with God and with family. 

1. Fill up. 

First, recognize your own, dried-up cisterns. If you’ve been running your engines at full speed without respite, then you’re running on fumes. “Let Christ’s words be your reminder: On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’” (John 7:37–38 NIV). 

Here Christ references the coming Holy Spirit and recognizes your need for him. The gospel begins with reliance on Christ’s finished work and continues with the Holy Spirit’s life-giving direction. As a Christian parent, you have to fill up each day. 

2. Pray first thing.

Enjoy talking to God, expressing your concerns, and praising him before the day gets crazy. I know I can easily slip into the day’s circus if I don’t pause and make prayer a priority in the morning. By starting the day with prayer, it will strengthen your bond with God and reorient your heart toward those who need you. 

3. Change up the morning routine. 

Start your day with the phone away. Don’t use it as your main alarm. Let the news and social feeds wait for at least an hour after waking. One tech company experimented with this and discovered how much sweeter their mornings were with their families. They felt less stressed and hurried. By not engaging with news and social feeds first thing, they enjoyed their mornings more. 

4. Read the Word together. 

While the family sits down to eat, find a short Psalm, a piece of the Gospels, or section of the Torah to read. Hearing the Scriptures read aloud is a powerful experience that engages a younger audience more. And if you struggle with finding a restful reading habit with the Bible, offer yourself grace. Try one new habit per week and celebrate growth. 

If you read the Bible on your phone, leave it on “Do not disturb” so notifications don’t vie for attention. Make it a fun morning moment over breakfast. Take turns reading, sharing the narrating role. Not a huge fan of reading out loud? Try an audio Bible. There are some great apps out there like Dwell and Daily Audio Bible

5. Find your place. 

Jesus sought isolated spaces to connect with the Father. Find your place as well. This should be a guilt-free zone, a time your kids know you need to get alone with God. For some, this might be stepping outside for a bit, going for a jog, or sitting in a favorite chair away from the noise. 

Communicate your special alone time with God ahead of time to your family. By finding your place for respite, you will strengthen your bond with God. 

6. Binge-watch nature together. 

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Getting in nature scientifically reduces stress. It also reconnects you with God’s majesty. It helps you to focus on his beauty and sovereignty in the midst of a crazy world. Staring at screens excites your brain and distracts your attention. Nature, however, calms and heals. In fact, many doctors prescribe “ecotherapy” for their patients. 

7. Permit yourself to play. 

Look, adults need play, too. Play can be activities you do on your own or with your family. Whether throwing a frisbee, having a dress-up party, playing board games, or watching a cheesy movie together, it should be something life-giving. It should be “something done for its own sake,” as one play researcher puts it. 

For instance, my wife enjoys restoring old furniture. She’ll find abandoned pieces, sand them, and paint them into something beautiful. To me it feels like work! But to her, it’s play. It’s a respite from stress. 

What’s something you can do by yourself and with your family to encourage play? 

Our amazing privilege 

From cover to cover, the Bible describes humanity in the context of connection: from Adam and Eve’s communion with God in Genesis to the restored earth enjoying God’s presence in Revelation, it’s about right-relationship. 

And we have this amazing privilege to reflect God’s goodness in the world, especially to our families. Though our phones offer temporary fulfillment, they can’t replace genuine face-to-face connection with those we love. 

So, be aware of the technoference in your life. 

Build some new bond-restoring habits. 

Above all, enjoy God and your family.


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Jordan Hopkins

Jordan is a husband, dad, and freelance writer. He’s the creator of ScriptureSauce.com, a weekly blog & newsletter. Its motto: “Love God. Savor His Word.” He’s also the content manager for Techless. They’re the designer of Wisephone, a porn-free, digital-addiction-busting machine. You’ll find him playing guitar, grinding fresh coffee, and throwing frisbees with his son.

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