Alice, Help Me Get My Mom Off Her Phone!

updated May 3, 2019
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Hi Alice,

As you know, pervasive cell phone usage is a fact of our modern life. However, I still think etiquette and face-to-face interaction should be a priority. Unfortunately, my mother doesn’t seem to share my concern. I’m 23 with two younger teenage sisters, yet it’s my mom that is constantly on her cell phone either texting or playing games. This frustrates me to no end and I find it incredibly rude.

This includes at the dinner table, at restaurants, and in the middle of conversations (including when someone is speaking directly to her). It seems that every spare moment she immediately gets lost in the screen and there’s no getting her back. I suspect this is just a habit and she’s unaware of how it appears to others.

How can I bring this up to her without starting a fight or seeming like a nag? I find it difficult because she’s my mother, and I don’t feel comfortable scolding her. However, I truly think this problem is damaging for her relationships and is setting a poor example for my sisters. When I’ve tried to bring up other things in the past, she gets defensive and it only makes things tense between us. Is there any way to handle this tactfully but effectively?

Mom Can’t Put Down the Phone

Dear Daughter,

It’s true that the societal decorum bar has fallen for phone usage, but your description paints a picture of a sad, self-absorbed person who is losing (or has lost) perspective on the difference between the real world and the digital one. I’m reading a bit between the lines but I’m guessing your mom isn’t active and happy in her real life and is seeking connection to others via her phone. The irony is that her behavior is isolating her from the people who are physically around her.

I would start with a heart to heart. Tell her what you told me in your letter. Express concern for her emotional health and for the impact her phone conduct is having on you and your sisters. It’s possible she has no idea the extent of her phone obsession and the affect it’s having. Ask for this at a minimum: no phones at the table during meals (at home or out) or during conversations. After this you can skip being tactful and start calling her out on her disrespectful phone manners.


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