In our increasingly digital world, it's important not to let outside connections distract us from the relationships that matter most. Here are three tips for engaging technology in the quest to be a good friend, partner and parent.

Remember when phones were connected to walls, messages were delivered by mail carriers, and a set of hardbound encyclopedias was the holy grail of information? If not, you're clearly younger than me, but no doubt you still recognize the impact technology has had on changing the way we function and interact. Today's smartphones mean information at our fingertips and the world in our hands. They're our work and our play, our organization, entertainment and communication. Unfortunately, the ability to connect globally, anytime, anywhere, can take a toll on the connections that matter most: the people we love and the children we raise. When gadgets distract us from face-to-face interaction and heart-to-heart conversations key to quality relationships, we risk harming our most important bonds. This study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that parents absorbed in their mobile devices reacted negatively, and even harshly, to children vying for their attention. Another study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships showed how the mere presence of a cellphone on a restaurant table negatively affected couples' interactions, even when not in use. But in a world where 73 percent of people say they'd feel "panicked" if they lost their cellphone, and another 14 percent would be "desperate," we're unlikely to toss our phones out the window to save our relationships. How then can we combat this pattern of being so connected with the outside world that we're disconnecting from those around us? We don't have to unplug entirely to be a good friend, partner and parent; we just need to plug in at the right time and in the right way. A judicious use of smartphones, tablets and computers can work for, rather than against us in parenting and other relationships. Here are three tips to help tame the technology beast and use it to our advantage. Practice what you preach How many times have I told my children to get off the iPad and go DO something, while scrolling through my email or reading online news? It's different, I tell myself, as I check the weather for tomorrow's barbecue. I'm not tapping away at Flappy Bird, not flicking home runs or crushing candy. But my kids don't know the difference; they only see me using my phone. If I want them to get outside and shoot hoops, I should go out there with them and show them who's boss. (Spoiler alert: they are. I'm a terrible shot.) If I don't want them texting when they become drivers, I shouldn't use my phone while behind the wheel, not even to look up directions. If I chat with the grocery clerk instead of taking that incoming call, my kids will learn common-sense manners. And if I avoid the temptation to check a text message while on a walk with my husband, he'll know nothing is more important to me than being with him in that moment. (Helpful hint: they notice even the smallest reflexive flinch toward the phone. Be solid. Be strong.) Make communication count Text messaging between teenagers is rarely about business, unless that business is social (jw wat time 2 pick u up 2nyt?) But why should they have all the texting fun? We, too, can ditch the shop talk and send messages to our loved ones that connect in a personal way. Texting is the modern-day love letter, the Post-it note on the mirror. Be fun with your teens, flirty with your spouse, and thoughtful with your friends. Send an uplifting quote, a joke of the day, a sincere and meaningful compliment. Anything that says, "I'm thinking about you" can serve to strengthen a relationship. Embrace and engage Don't shun the digital world your kids are into, or even passively ignore it. Get to know the apps they use. Be involved in social media. Get on Instagram and follow your children and their friends - you'll learn a lot. Then teach your kids how to post smart, quality photos rather than squished chin, "I'm so bored" selfies. Understand the disappearing pictures and videos on Snapchat and discuss what's appropriate to send or be sent. Re-pin something from your daughter's Pinterest board. Ask your 8-year-old son for a tour of his Minecraft village. Keep up on trending Internet stories and videos so you can discuss them and watch them as a family. Seek out the good ones. Laugh and cry together. Allow them to spark important conversations. Play Life and other "board" games on the iPad as a family. Listen to TED talks as a couple. Send links to articles that might interest a friend or a sibling. Mention Facebook posts in real time with real people. "I read on Facebook that you got a new job. Tell me more about that." Mobile devices shouldn't dominate our days and tuck us into bed at night, but they don't have to be the enemy either. While there are certainly times to unplug altogether, the digital world is here to stay. It takes effort to engage in the fast pace of it all, but a smart use of technology can serve an important purpose in strengthening our most meaningful relationships.%3Cimg%20src%3D%22http%3A//beacon.deseretconnect.com/beacon.gif%3Fcid%3D167177%26pid%3D46%22%20/%3E