Too Connected in the Digital Age?


Recently I have been involved in some conversations with parents and colleagues about adolescents and young adults who are addicted to their cell phones, tablets, laptops, and who find it difficult to disconnect (just as I find it difficult to do as well). Of course, we all know by now that home media are wonderful windows onto the world for many productive uses, and they are time and family-linkage thieves if we let them go unchecked.

We are down to just one school age child in the home, so our lift is not as great as many who will read this. Nonetheless, the stress and conflict that can arise because of the deep fall that Mary, Ben and I frequently take into our various technologies is very real.  Unplugging the plug-in drug (to use an old euphemism that came about when TV was new) is a very hard thing to do, and technology can breed family isolation and collision with activities like dinner together and even basic communications, though you’re right there in the same space.

When one-to-one computing was new in schools, it was common for moms or dads to profess into live microphones at school board meetings that they “could not” get their child(ren) off the computer at night—and that sleep was compromised due to laptops taken to bed, etc. The disdain was palpable from some audience members who found this to be a very simple parenting problem. Of course, most of us do have tech zones and no-tech zones both in terms of geography and by time/activity. These are best practices that are working for most of us, right?  But still, when we’re hooked on a challenging email chain from work or our kids are hooked on a FOMO* link with friends enjoying some activity and communicating about it, any one of us can be THE ONE who does not respond to a family member who tries four or five times to get our attention just for a moment. 

Now, I don’t profess to have a robust list of answers for this, but I do know that using a quote from our frequent collaborator here in ZCS on the Strong in Every Way initiative, Derek Peterson, has helped us with this issue. I have become resigned to the fact that the phenomenon of technology ubiquity is not going to go away, and I think there are exceptional efficiencies and positives about the amazing resource we have in our smartphones, tablets, etc. But management of the time and attention-suck of these devices is a real thing, and there has been, at least in our home, some inappropriate “screen shaming” that is frankly a bit hypocritical. That is, parents have been guilty, too.

So Derek Peterson offers a strong and simple premise that is not rocket science, but it is effective for us. Peterson says, “The best way to end something is to start something new.”

This basic and openly shared plan of displacement augments the already established norms about no phones at the dinner table, etc. We have simply fought the temptation of isolation and tuning out of others with new habits of enjoying some favorite family experiences sans our devices. In our home, we are big on learning about history and travel, engaging in competitions/games, physical and mental challenges, and affiliation with our neighbors. Right, you guessed it, we have a suggestion calendar (not unlike our son’s chore chart) on the fridge to keep us from falling into the anti-affiliative (with each other) allure of our devices—that we all use throughout most days at work/school anyway.

As I shared above, not rocket science, but it is the commitment that keeps variety and affiliation top of mind for our lives together. Check it out. Have the fam discuss the variety of interests across the ages and stages of your household, and come up with a “suggestions grid” of your own. Documentaries, check!  We love them. Games like “Word Slam!” (You HAVE to try this!), check. We love it—and cards and billiards, and bean bag toss and Giant Jenga, and on and on.  Reading the old way—with favorite magazines or biographies in front of the fire, beside the pool (according to season), or in the hottub… CHECK!  And one I like among the best, a “Happy Hour-and-a-Half”—where a neighbor family comes over for a defined 90 minutes of conversation (old folks) and billiards, music, aforementioned Jenga, etc. (young folks).  

It is said that there is nothing new under the sun. And yet, parenting in the digital age IS NEW and right in our faces. Don’t let it split your family or allow you to become strangers. You’ve got this!!!

Thanks for always helping your children and yourself in striving to be Strong in Every Way!

Scott R.