I had the pleasure of sitting in a pediatric waiting room recently. There were colorful jungle-themed wall decorations, a variety of toys and books available, and an inviting art station with a child’s table and chairs. Strangely, only one child was interacting with her environment, while boys and girls sat motionless and stared into their computerized iPads or game boys. Parents, too, scrolled through news feed and waited for the time to pass. This reality has become our new normal. I worry that my enthusiastic five-year-old daughter, who wants to play and openly engage both children and adults in conversation, will be viewed, at some point, as displaying odd behavior. While technology has become our addiction, there is one solution to reclaim the present moment. By creating technology-free times, families can reconnect by actively talking, listening and bantering thoughts without the fear that life somewhere else is happening without our notice.
It started harmlessly enough. Families after dinner would congregate together in the living room. The dad or mom would arrive with a laptop in hand and say, “I am only going to check work e-mail.” Hours later, four heads emerge from a huddled “cyber cocoon” to wander up to bed.
We often forget that being home, among family, is good for the soul. These impulses to respond immediately when a text-message notification “buzzes” have created a new term called “telepressure.” Research has discovered high blood pressure and sleep disorders are caused by this need to be “connected” to work. When children are not part of the interactive social world, they, too, sign in. Every member of the family needs to unplug, relax and communicate in the present moment, and spend fewer hours in a virtual reality.
What the solutions?
- Create dinner rules; for example, that everyone sits at the table or restaurant without technology. To eliminate the quick impulse to respond, ask everyone to “silence” the volume or shut down. (Every cell phone needs to be restarted, periodically. Let’s call it “technology good health”).
- Through “parent controls,” limit your children’s cell phone and iPad usage. Remember, children are watching and following your lead; therefore, think about not carrying your phone in your pocket or clipped to your clothing. Do not let your inbox set your day’s agenda. Choose times during the evening and weekend to check mail or respond.
- Encourage the family not to sleep with their phones, too. A good night’s sleep should not include notification buzzes. As adults are affected by “telepressure,” the same impulses are equally strong in children.
- Celebrate Friday evenings with a card or game night. Play in teams to build and encourage communication. Consider inviting the extended family for a meal of homemade pizza and the chance to play.
- As the evenings grow warmer, start thinking about a new exercise routine. Perhaps the family would enjoy a bike ride or walking the family dog, a game of basketball or backyard football.
- Invite your social media family and friends to an unplugged challenge. See how long you can go without “checking in,” and celebrate each other’s successes.
- Embrace nature now and again without the worry of having a signal. Take drives in the country, visit our state waterfalls and National Parks, and discover new sights and places off the beaten path.
The days of standing by a long-corded telephone and memorizing the phone numbers of family and good friends are long gone. As children, we left home on our bikes, explored various environments with our neighborhood friends, and came home when we were hungry. It is wonderful to connect with old and new friends, and family through social media, texting, and unlimited calling plans; yet, our lives are forever changed by that electronic leash. Our story is happening now, and we sometimes forget to live in the present moment. Detoxing from technology is necessary for the health and well-being of our spouses and, especially, the children and teens who are living by our example. In creating technology-free times, each of us can begin to use our phones more deliberately, and perhaps see that feeling restored is good!