Media, in all its formats, seems to drive the world. Instant communication via news, texts, weather, music, entertainment, business hours, deliveries, pharmaceuticals, directions and advice seem to give everyone exactly what they need, precisely when they need it. Technology has made this driving force readily accessible to us at any given moment of the day or night. At the touch of a finger, we can tap into the power of the world.
However, more studies are proving that which we have inherently felt along the way of the Technology Super Highway, and that is that it comes with a price. Too often, the surface media at our fingertips is replacing, stealing or failing to form the authentic human connection we all need. Children being raised in today’s world will rarely experience what life was like before everybody had a cell phone. When you had no way to communicate between the places you left and the places you arrived. The world before “Okay, Google.”
Could this mean that an entire generation of kids is being raised in an environment where authentic connection is not readily recognized? What are the detrimental, emotional effects to having our cell phones on us or near us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Have we calculated the trade-off?
The first message parents unintentionally send to their kids when they are constantly on their phones, is, that whatever is on that phone is more important than them. Cell phones are not just telephones anymore. They are the internet. They are cameras. They are hand-held games. They are stimulation outside of connection with our kids. The truth is, when we are attached to our phones, we are detached from our kids. And when kids and parents are detached from each other, they form unhealthy habits of replacing authentic connection. That may fall further into the addiction of screen time, or into unhealthy relationships with others, or even substance abuse.
The second issue with screen addiction for children and adults is that it causes behavioral problems. Irritability, attention deficit, mood swings, aggression both passive and confrontational, depression, anxiety, as well as instant gratification that is often false and shallow. It is easier to tune out of the world than to tune in to our problems or responsibilities. The artificial sense of accomplishment given to the pleasure centers of our brains when we are plugged in robs us of time. It drains our ability to take action in the real world or engage with others. It keeps us constantly distracted. Lack of eye contact alone with our kids is stealing company and connection. When we need multiple stimuli repetitively streaming at us, we fail to demonstrate virtues to our children that they need, such as patience, imagination, respect, diligence and hospitality.
Cell phone addiction can be difficult to overcome. However, there are plenty of easy steps parents can take to unplug from their phones, and plug-in to their kids. The first one is, set limits. Put the phone down. Every time you pick it up, you are compromising authentic connection with your kids. They know it. The phone gets the attention they crave. So how do you go about setting limits? Where you start will depend on how bad your phone addiction is. Some parents may only be able to set a time limit on how long they don’t have their phones on. For instance, two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, turn your phone completely off and set it down. Never be on your phone during meals. Don’t check it first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Eventually, you can build up to it not being the monopoly of your day. For instance, only phone checking for 15 minutes in the morning, and 20 minutes at night. When you feel the draw to go pick up your phone, stretch your arms and take a deep breath instead. Remind yourself that you don’t want to be owned by your phone. It doesn’t control you.
Pick technology-free days, even if it’s just once a week, such as Tech-Free Tuesdays, or No Screens on Sunday. Instilling these healthy habits will keep parents and kids focused on what is in front of them. It is not easy to retrain ourselves when we are accustomed to the distraction. The brain will wander when we try to keep still. This is not just a problem that has come along with the age of technology. Blaise Pascal, a 17th century philosopher said, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Cell phones keep us distracted and help us procrastinate. They make us feel connected to something, while disconnecting us with everything around us. But like any addiction, the difficulty of breaking free gets easier with time. Until the day arrives when you not only need it less, but you realize how much it controlled your time, attention and mood.
Parents need to reboot, recharge, and not be wired in to the constant “on” of technology. Turning off phones and not picking them back up will make healthier lives for the entire family. Start small if you have to, but start somewhere. And keep scaling back until the cell phone becomes a tool you forget you have, rather than a tool that rules the way you live.