Recently, I went on vacation where a primary goal was not only to relax, but to have a digital detox. Things had been pretty stressful with work and family, and I knew I needed to just shut it all down. Vacation was just the antidote that I needed. No screens was a natural part of that.
I spoke with my family and the friends with whom we were traveling, and we all agreed that we would do our best to have technology free zones. I did check email every morning and every night, mostly deleting emails that did not need any attention and ensuring that there were no emergencies at the office. Otherwise, I went back to basics: reading books not on my iPad or Nook, using a traditional camera, and leaving my phone behind. For the most part, everyone else did, too.
Although initially an experiment, what we all realized was that we were so tethered to the devices in our hands that we often forget to look up and really take in the beauty of the lives we were living. Without the electronics to distract us, we engaged and laughed more and had more genuine interactions with one another. How much were we missing when we didn’t do this?
As adults in the lives of children, we have to model how to use electronics in a beneficial way, not just as distraction or as a primary way of connecting with others. It’s often hard to remember that this is an important piece of the interpersonal puzzle. Many of us have forgotten how to sit with our own thoughts or how to just enjoy the world around us. We seem to constantly need the distraction, missing what is happening right in front of us. We are watching concerts through the small screens of our phones rather than looking right at the performance. We can’t watch a movie without checking that text and often spend time with our phones in front of us, rather than speaking with our companions. Imagine, then, what we are missing with our children when our heads are down rather than up?
Additionally, more research is being presented that all of the social media usage is actually increasing depression and anxiety amongst young people. I imagine that this is true for all ages. Jean Twenge, who has labeled this the iGen generation, has done a great deal of research noting that, all things being equal, the increase in anxiety and depression is linked with the advent of the smartphone 10 years ago. The motivation to get “likes,” to earn followers, to be the most popular, is creating a sense of loneliness and disconnection. The exact opposite of what we would like children to experience.
I can imagine that the first thought that you are having is: there is no way that I can avoid Facebook or Instagram or leave my phone at home! The entire idea seems foreign to many of us at this point. Our phones have become an appendage that we do not know how to live without. Set some simple guidelines for yourself and work towards letting go of the technology dependence.
Choose an hour a day to be tech free. Slowly build from there. Some apps like, Forest, help with putting down the phone but letting you grow a tree or a bush while you do other things. As you feel more comfortable with the small accomplishments, you can add time on.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR USAGE
Sometimes we don’t even know how we are using our phones. There are many applications that help us to understand how long and in what way we are on the phone. Apps such as Moment allow us to see where we put our attention. It can be helpful to know how you are spending your time when you are using your phone.
SURF THE URGE
When things are quiet or you’re sitting by yourself, you may have the urge to pick up your phone. Just notice it and notice how, if you don’t act on the urge, it passes.
REMOVE THE APPS
Take social media applications off your phone and turn off any notifications. Research has shown that notifications activate our dopamine receptors, which cause us to feel good and excited, leading us down the rabbit hole on our phones. If you shut them off, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel good, it just means you’ll feel less anxious and inclined to jump on your phone rather than stay in the moment. Additionally, taking the apps off your phone means you’ll be less tempted to use it as often.
We are not going to be able to avoid technology in our lives. The key is to understand how to use it the best way possible. The more we can engage in the “real” world, the more grounded and present we can feel in the online world. As parents, it’s important to be able to recognize the difference and to be fully engaged in children’s lives, in order to help them feel as though they can take on the world, themselves.