What Kids Say about their Parents’ Tech Habits

“My Mom is always on her phone”

Those are the words I hear after every presentation I give to students. At the end of my talk, I always ask the kids “when it comes to technology, what habits do your parents have that you wish you could change?” That is always the top answer.

Whether you believe it or not, you are the most important person in your child’s life. Our kids may be way ahead of us when it comes to streaming, downloading and snapping but they depend on us for our wisdom and guidance. They depend on us to model a healthy relationship with technology so they in turn can reap the benefits technology has to offer without being controlled by it.

Even though our phones allow us to connect with anyone at anytime… should we? Is our relationship with our phone bringing too much convenience to our life at the expense of our own wellbeing and therefore our children’s wellbeing?

As human beings, we crave new information. Even the thought of a new notification, message or email, causes our brain to secrete dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel good. Our phone allows us to be constantly connected to the internet which in turn allows us continuous access to new information. New York Times best selling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Nicholas Carr, states the internet "allows us to live in a perpetual state of distraction and interruption.” This constant state of distraction actually interferes with the ability to transfer short term memories into long term memories. A process called memory consolidation which is required for learning.

Learning creates wisdom and our kids rely on us for our wisdom.

Some may argue that they don’t spend long periods of time on their phone. They just use it when they have a spare moment. A quick scroll through Facebook or a game of Candy Crush isn’t a big deal. Well according to Dr. Cal Newport, a computer scientist and author, this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration. When our attention is constantly fragmented, it can have long term effects on our ability to think deeply, be creative and focus.

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Deep thinking, creativity and focus allow us to better guide our kids through the obstacles life brings them.

So while it isn’t possible (and I’m not suggesting it) to completely disconnect from your smartphone, it is possible to take back control. To pay attention. To realize that when you wake up in the morning and sit in silence instead of immediately checking Instagram, you are choosing to be more focused. When you go for a walk and leave your phone on the counter, you are choosing to be more mindful. When you drive your kids to hockey and leave your phone in your bag at the red light, you are choosing to be a good role model. You are taking control over your phone and choosing to have a healthy relationship with technology.

Our kids have infinite opportunities to connect with the world but are they able to connect with us? We just have to start the conversation… ask your kid the question… “am I always on my phone?”

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.
— James Baldwin
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If you want to keep your kids safe online you need to look in the mirror first

Parents tell me they are worried about what their kids are posting online, who they are talking to and who might be trying to communicate with them. Well-meaning parents are also concerned with how much time their kids are spending online and how their digital life is affecting their health and relationships.

Before we can expect our kids to have a healthy relationship with technology, we have to have one ourselves.

It isn’t fair for us to expect our kids to put their phone down and head up when we ask them a question if we are swiping and scrolling at the same time ourselves.

We are sending mixed messages when we tell our kids to stop posting so many selfies but then share their pictures on our own Facebook page without asking them.

We are not setting a good example when we tell our kids not to get involved in online drama but then complain about the comments our own friends made on Twitter.

The challenge when modelling good digital behavior is that we are still figuring out much of this “tech stuff” ourselves. We don’t have those personal experiences to rely upon when it comes to teaching our kids how to stay safe online. Our parents didn’t sit us down and have the “selfie” talk with us.

Unfortunately that doesn’t mean we are excused from discussing tech use with our own kids. They need us to model healthy tech behavior. They rely on us for guidance and mentorship and if they don’t learn from us, they are going to learn from someone else. Someone who may not have their best interest at heart.

Long before our kids own a phone or use a tablet, they are learning about digital citizenship from us. They are learning how important our phone is to us. So important that we:

  • take our phones to bed
  • watch our screen instead of watch our kids play soccer
  • take selfies with exploited wildlife
  • text and drive with our kids in the backseat

Young kids especially don’t realize all the apps and resources we have available to us at our fingertips. We may be replying to an urgent email, transferring money or responding to a friend in need, but all they see is that our phone is receiving more attention than they are. In their eyes, we are unavailable to them, but always available to our phone.

Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you
— Robert Fulghum

Digital technology enables accessibility. So much so that we have to carve out device-free time in our device-filled world. But it’s worth it. By taking back control from our phones and adopting a healthy digital diet, our kids will benefit. They see, learn and follow our lead. They will be kind, creative and empowered when using their devices and be less vulnerable to addiction, narcissism and isolation.

Here are some easy tech habits to try for the New Year and create a healthy digital lifestyle for your family:

  • start and end your day with you - keep the first and last hours of your day device-free
  • greet your kids after school by looking them in the eye instead of looking at your phone
  • unfollow anyone who is a negative influence online
  • create a family charging station - keep all devices out of the bedrooms overnight
  • embrace technology - try something new that promotes creating rather than consuming media
  • keep the conversation going - ask your kids about their tech use every single day

Our digital habits and attitude directly affect how our kids interact with digital media. Make 2018 a year of less scrolling and more connecting.

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How Technology can Help you Focus on what Really Matters

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Having a business that involves staying current with online trends and digital updates requires me to spend a lot on time… well… online. It also requires that I remain mindful of my time online so I can reap the benefits technology has to offer but also stay grounded to what matters most. After the loss of my beloved bulldog, then suffering through the sudden death of my dad, followed by my resignation from a successful career, I have come to realize where I want to invest my energy.  

Experiencing life with my family, connecting with thoughtful, passionate people and staying rooted to nature are my priorities. By committing to these values, the grieving process has directed me on a path that involves being very mindful about where I place my attention.

Technology has evolved in such a way that we can now use our digital devices to help us take back control of our time. Being mindful of how technology assists us with the demands of every day living is one step. Noticing how our actions online and the relationship we have with our tech is the the next step.

If you feel like you could benefit from a bit of a digital detox or you would like to be more connected to those things that matter most to you, here are some useful apps that promote a more mindful online experience:

Moment - allows you to keep track of how long you are spending on your device. The first week after I downloaded this app, I averaged 3 hours a day. I’m happy to say this last week the average time I spent looking at my phone every day was 1 hour and 37 minutes.  

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Forest - takes the temptation away from checking your phone while you are trying to work. A tree or bush is planted when you start the timer and start working. That tree will die if you interrupt its growing process - by becoming distracted and checking another app. Being a nature lover, this app really resonated with me and also increased my productivity!

Stop, Breathe & Think - lets you check in with how you are feeling that day. You can then select a meditation that is best suited for your emotions. It’s easy to take 5 minutes out of your day to check in and improve your mental health. I also like that there is a kids section in this app. These meditations are short and ideally suited for younger kids (5-10 years).

Bedtime feature on the iOS Clock app - it will send you a reminder that it is “Time for Bed.” I have my reminder set for 60 minutes before my ideal bedtime. This reminder triggers me to put away my phone and laptop and start getting ready for bed. Sixty minutes is an appropriate amount of tech-free time so you can get a decent night’s sleep. Otherwise it is easy to get lost on social media or the google machine. Before you know it, you have traded some much needed shut eye for a website that will still be there the next day.

While technology keeps us connected and up-to-date, it can also keep us disconnected. Notice how you can incorporate a bit of mindfulness to your digital habits and place your attention on what matters most to you.

Watch more sunsets than Netflix
— Author Unknown
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