Defying Digital Distractions
Let’s face it – we live in a digital age of online activity that isn’t going away.
Technology is growing, and we can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s fun, useful and even empowering sometimes; wonderfully convenient to have so much information and potential activity at our fingertips. But, as with anything, there are drawbacks too. As families today learn the ins and outs of raising children who don’t know life without the internet and digital devices, it’s clearly a challenge to find balance in life with these technologies.
Challenge Finding Balance
A recent study on “cyber balance” by iKeepSafe shows that 36% of teens admit to experiencing challenges in finding a balance between the use of digital devices and other activities. Many of them say that it can be a major distraction and interferes with schoolwork and other activities, including sleep. Adults and “tweens” are not immune. In fact, 26% of adults said they had experienced inadequate sleep due to their digital activity, and 25% have failed to complete work. This is probably not surprising to most of us. But what studies like this can’t show is that there are much more – including adults – who don’t recognize that they do experience distraction, inefficiency, relationship problems, emotional challenges, dependence, and even addiction with digital experiences.
Just try going a few hours without digital devices, and most of us will notice some interesting yearnings.
What to do to Defy Digital Distractions?
What are parents, young adults, and children to do to defy the digital distractions? How can we live in the digital age and find a balanced way to use technology that is healthy? The specific answers are going to be different for every person and family since needs and circumstances vary so widely. However, here are some concepts and strategies that can be helpful to many.
- Purposeful Encounters: Too much of anything – whether healthy or not – is still too much. Define the purpose and approximate time for each use of technology and then move on to other activities. Whether it’s work, study, communication, relaxation, or simple fun, consider your device as a tool to accomplish that and then put down the tool. You’ll be happier.
If you notice that use of the device starts to be a way to escape from or avoid real-life experiences, relationships, and roles, see that the tool is being misused and make some adjustments. You wouldn’t use a hammer to do brain surgery. Don’t let your phone or tablet define your life or be the cure for not knowing what else to do.
- Age and Maturity Matter: It seems that access to technology is viewed as both a “right” and a “rite.” In reality, it’s a privilege. Kids are given devices and internet access at increasingly younger ages. Is there an age that is too young? In my opinion, yes. But it has more to do with maturity than age. If a child can understand how to have purposeful encounters (see point #1) with technology and then quickly move on to other activities, then the given usage is probably appropriate for that child. Oh, and it’s OK if your child isn’t like “all the other kids” who have free reign with technology. They’ll thank you later.
- Multitasking Doesn’t Work: There’s an almost insatiable desire to check that notification you just got on your device, even though what you’re doing is important. Whether it’s schoolwork, work, family time, or thinking time, it’s so hard to ignore that little burst of attention. So, we believe that we can just quickly look at it and then get right back to the more important activity. The truth is that those quick attention diversions affect our learning, memory, cognitive processing, and mental energy. It takes a lot more effort and time to get refocused after a distraction than we believe. If you need focused time, turn off devices or work from a device that is distraction-free. You can even use software to turn off distractions if you need it. Bottom line: do whatever you need to have focused, distraction-free time every day for the things that are important – especially learning. Our minds work more efficiently that way.
- Make a Household Plan: All family members benefit from clear, mutually-agreed-upon rules that govern the use of tech in the home. Kids and parents both need accountability. But accountability isn’t about enforcement – there’s always a way around it. Accountability is about openness. Openness thrives with structure, and structure can be achieved with practices like checking-in devices at night, not using devices in bedrooms, using time restrictions, discussing content usage, and the use of accountability software. Find what works for your family to create a culture of openness, not enforcement. Get help if you need it. Doesn’t “openness” sound and feel so much better than “law enforcement”?
As families work together to use digital devices properly, they will be more likely to enjoy the benefits of technology and avoid distractions and pitfalls.