Can a smarter phone help your family connect?

Samantha Nadine
February 1, 2019
When tablets, smartphones, and mobile games have your child’s attention, it can be difficult to take it back, and you need to work even harder to connect on a deeper level. What’s even more disheartening is that studies show that too much screen time hurts the brain’s ability to develop key social functions like recognizing and understanding emotions. So even if we manage to take away their gadgets, they may not have the interest to bond with us... just yet. Thankfully, there are still ways to help your child connect with others.  

What happens when we put the screens down?

When parents and children connect with each other, it also ensures that the kids are nourished emotionally. Emotional nourishment is essential in developing emotional intelligence (EI), which in turn will affect your child's capacity to forge relationships as they grow. Another wonderful thing about having good EI is that it can improve your child's autonomy and self-awareness. In other words, your child will not become overly dependent on you. On top of all that, it will also allow them to grow with enough confidence to make their own decisions regardless of supervision. Learn more about emotional intelligence in this Relay blog post. Then comes the part where we need to put these concepts into action. And the first step in this approach is to initiate more and better communication.

How to build an emotional connection

We all know that nothing beats face-to-face communication. If you and your child are able to recognize each other’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language, you are more likely to know each other on a deeper level. These things, after all, make up over 90% of how we communicate, according to sociology expert Patricia Runcan. Remain observant, and consider the reasons why kids talk in a lively/sad tone or why they make faces. As explained in a post by Maryville University about their psychology degree, understanding the thoughts behind actions can help in contextualizing behavior. How your child thinks is often expressed unconsciously through other means. Imagine it this way; a text message (just words) might express a meaningful message, but covers only about 7% of what you are trying to communicate. Without context or personality, a text message is just a bunch of words put together. You can fare a lot better with a phone call (words plus the sound of the voice) and relay 45% of what you really mean. So, if you want to say something to your child but can’t do it face to face, a voice call is a much better alternative to a text message.

What about video calling?

Of course, video calling can be more intimate as you are able to communicate with facial expressions and body language. However, giving a child a smart device for video calling can have more downsides than upsides.
“I am very pleased with how [my daughter] is able to use it and understands that we are using it as a device not a toy. I was very excited to hear her say ‘Mommie, I love you’ from her bus on her way to school.” —Relay user via The Neighborhood
After all, video calls require internet-enabled devices with screens. You are already aware of the slippery slope between having these devices and screen addiction. We tend to picture device ownership as a balancing act between communication and distraction. But even adults will tell you that distraction often wins. If you can take out the distractions and maintain the communication aspect, then that would be perfect.

Communication skills for kids: phone versus walkie-talkie

Enter the PTT (push-to-talk) walkie talkie. While you may opt for a smartphone with parental controls or an old and unreliable flip phone from the 2000s, nothing beats just pushing a button to start a conversation. No menus to navigate, no distracting apps, just a simple and reliable device for easy, spontaneous connections. After all, the best way to simulate face-to-face conversations is to minimize the steps you need to take to talk. It makes communication much more natural. To illustrate, have you ever felt that placing a call is much more ‘serious’ or important than a text? We have become too used to casual texting that verbal communication feels so out of the ordinary.
“My son talks to me over the Relay his whole walk from school to meet me [...] There is something magical about it being a walkie talkie instead of a phone that gets him talking more.” — Relay user via The Neighborhood
However, if your family has become used to communicating with a walkie-talkie, calling to say “hello,” and “I love you mom,” or “on my way home now” can develop into a habit. With more open lines of communication and faster connection, communicating with such a device will improve your family’s emotional connection. Ultimately, this is the beauty of technologies like Relay.

A smarter solution

Relay is a smarter phone for your child. It has the nationwide 4G LTE range of a phone, but it works like a walkie-talkie. Relay does not have a screen and attention-grabbing apps. It has built-in privacy features and comes with a free app for parents. Parents can track their child’s GPS location, talk on a virtual walkie-talkie, and more. Want to learn more? Check out our main website at  

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