I recently had two interesting experiences related to technology that gave me pause. The first was a talk by UCSF professor and pediatrician Dr. Robert Lustig, author of The Hacking of the American Mind. His talk focused on the latest research surrounding the effects technology is having on our brains, especially those of children and adolescents. The data are clear the effect is dramatic — similar to those of other addictive substances such as drugs, alcohol, and sugar.
The second event was a forum with middle and high school students about their own technology use. A recurring theme was the distraction of technology not only for them but also for their parents — it is hard to get their attention, they are always on a device or at a screen, and they don’t follow the same rules they impose. Sounds like typical teenagers, right? Maybe, but I do think they are on to something. As parents, we are concerned about our children and their screen time and reliance on technology, but have we stopped to look in the mirror? Here are some tips to help you do that:
In a recent New York Times article, a reporter wrote about going through a phone detox and counting how many times a day he reached for his phone. I did this for a few days and realized that on average it was 96 times a day. Yikes, this was a mind-blowing number.
I have also been tracking my screen time in the settings menu on my iPhone. I spend on average 11 hours a week on social networking, which includes text messages, social media apps, and email. I would also grab my phone while pumping gas, waiting in any line, and every time I got in the car, just to name a few. These two exercises made me keenly more aware of just how much and when I was using my phone.
Now that I was aware just how much I was using my device and knowing that ditching it completely is not an option, what could I do to cut back? I make my kids turn in their devices before bed, but I was still sleeping with my phone right next to my bed. I decided to practice what I preach and “turn” my phone in at night, too.
I also turned off all notifications that weren’t completely necessary, and started putting my phone in airplane mode when on a walk, visiting a friend, or in a meeting. Without the constant ping, it becomes less tempting to grab for your phone. One thing that is probably the most important (but still a work in progress), is putting my phone in the glove box or backseat while driving. With three kids, so much of the day is about coordinating logistics, so I feel like I need to be in constant contact, but I have learned the world doesn’t fall apart if it’s 15–20 minutes before returning a call or text.
We clean out our closets, drawers, and garages to declutter and simplify, so I decided to try the same with my phone. I deleted apps I hadn’t used in a while and a lot of the games I had for the kids. I realized they are less likely to reach for my phone if there is nothing there anymore. I also deleted apps that were consuming a lot of browsing time such as shopping apps. A friend recently told me to decrease her social media time she doesn’t use the phone app; therefore, she doesn’t check it as often. After doing these things, I had the same feeling I get when looking at a clean, organized closet — lighter and more in control.
One of the biggest reasons for wanting to make some of these changes was realizing that we are the biggest role models for our children not only in life but now we are also their media mentors as well. I want my kids to know it is always going to bring you more joy and happiness to have a face-to-face conversation than over text, that our Fear of Missing Out or “fomo” gets in the way of living in the present and appreciating what we have, and that the ping of a Facebook “like” or incoming text may make you happy for a second, but finding a way to live a balanced life is what ultimately will make us the happiest.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]