Oh, how I love my nightly Pinterest sessions. I look forward to that mindless scrolling and pinning of recipes I’ll never make and quotes that inspire. And I love seeing pictures friends have posted and what everybody’s doing on Facebook. And, of course, I love the great articles I link to from Twitter. The downside to all this social media wonderfulness, however, is that I often get sucked in for waaaaaay too long, stay up too late, and don’t do other things that would make me happier and my life more balanced.
I think we all intuitively know that too much time spent glued to our smart phones, tablets, and computers is not good for us or our kids. What’s most frightening to me is that researchers are only just starting to investigate the long-term impact all this online time is having on our kids. So, we don’t even know what it’s doing to them. Many adults are addicted to our devices, so how can we expect our kids to figure out how to navigate technology wisely if we haven’t figured it out ourselves?
I’m not advocating giving up all technology, which is pretty much impossible in this era (plus, I love Pinterest and find mindless scrolling relaxing). But adults are now paying for digital detox (being forced technology-free for a retreat), and I think it’s time we all figure out how to unplug more in our day-to-day lives. How can we balance our technology use so that we have happier lives and model good tech habits for our kids? After reading some of the current research on this topic, I’ve come up with five reasons to make unplugging a priority in our families:
1. Unplugging can improve our relationships.
“Researchers from the University of Essex found that people who engaged in personal discussions when a cell phone was nearby — even if neither was actually using it — reported lower relationship quality and less trust for their partner. They also felt their partner was less empathetic to their concerns.” (Scientific American) Did you hear about this study? Just having a cell phone sitting on the table between you and whomever you’re having a meal with negatively impacts the intimacy of your discussion. I think it says to the person you’re with, “Whatever random person who tags or texts me while we’re together is more important than you.”
A Stanford researcher (Aboujaoude) found in a 2006 study that between 4 and 14% of people surveyed admitted that a “preoccupation with being online was interfering in various ways with their relationships, financial health, and other aspects of real life.” What must that number be eight years later with the addition of Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, etc.? How much of each day are we NOT paying attention to the important people in our lives because we’re looking at a screen instead of the person in front of us? And what kind of relational role modeling are we providing for our kids? When we’re plugged in to technology all the time, we miss out on important connecting time with our family and friends.
2. Unplugging helps our kids develop social skills.
A Stanford researcher, Naas, observed that, “It’s becoming perfectly okay to use media while we’re interacting.” His example was that he regularly has to ask college students to stop texting while they’re having a meeting with him, their professor! This is just one sad symptom of our ever-devolving social abilities. We’re losing our focus on the real, face-to-face relationships that make life meaningful, and we’re not modeling for the next generation how to treat live people. We need to turn off and put away our phones when we’re interacting with people and show our kids how to act offline.
3. Unplugging helps us get more sleep.
“Bedtime technology sessions interfere with our sleep. Regular computer use late at night is associated with sleep disorders and also with symptoms of stress and depression.” (NY Times)
Apparently, the artificial light from screens reduces melatonin levels and makes us not sleep as well. I think we just stay on social media too long and it gets late! Many kids and adults are sleep-deprived from too much late night internet, and it’s negatively impacting our health, academics, and work. It’s a good idea to charge phones in the kitchen or somewhere NOT near our beds. Get an old-fashioned alarm clock if you need one.
4. Unplugging makes us safer.
Texting while driving causes 1,600,000 accidents per year, 11 teen deaths EVERY DAY, and is the cause of nearly 25% of all auto accidents (National Safety Council). Enough said.
5. Unplugging makes us less anxious.
I often have an anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach about needing to get to my unread emails. How about you? Researchers are finding that “the internal experience today is one of hyper-anxiety,” and there has been a “devaluing of thoughtfulness.”
Many parents already recognize the benefit of unplugging kids and themselves, and I hope there will be a cultural shift back to living in the moment and focusing on the people we’re with. In the meantime, let’s all make a conscious choice to unplug ourselves and our kids for parts of every day. We need to establish technology-free zones in our families to maintain the emotional and social health of our kids and ourselves. For sure, family times like dinner need to be tech-free. And, an hour or so before bedtime, we need to turn off our screens and power down. I made myself these tech rules awhile ago, and they’ve been helpful (although not consistently followed). What about you? How do you and your family unplug?
What to read more about why unplugging is a good idea? Here are some of the resources I found:
And a cool infographic: