Digital Detox: Technology is amazing. But if you feel you’re spending too much time on it, or members of your family are, then read on. Help is at hand!
Technology is great, right? Literally everyone and everything is at your disposal with just the click of a few buttons. However, you’re probably not alone in thinking that there are times when you need a break from it. And if there aren’t, you’re probably in denial! And if it’s not you, it’s your kids, or your partner. We’re all guilty. In fact, new research from Elastoplast, the UK’s leading plaster brand, revealed that 80% of parents cited their children’s favourite pastime as mobile phones, or video games.
Elizabeth Kilbey is a leading clinical psychologist and the author of ‘Unplugged Parenting‘. She has spent the last 15 years working with children, both within the NHS and privately. She has a Masters in Child Development, and during her career she has helped families to tackle everything from toddler tantrums to teenage meltdowns as well as more complex and challenging mental health difficulties. You’ll recognise her if you’ve watched ‘The Secret Life of 4/5/6 Year Olds’, or if you’ve seen her Ted Talk. You get the idea, she knows about this stuff, which is why we asked her to give us the lowdown on how we can disconnect and re-engage with our nearest and dearest.
I’m not going to lecture everyone about banning technology because, while I think it’s not so healthy for younger kids, tech does have a place for adolescents and adults. The issue with tech is that it’s a time eater and it gets in the way of other things. Young children in particular need to run, sing, jump, climb, engage… and they reach all sorts of developmental milestones by doing these things.
Compare technology to sugar. Would you let your kids have it when they want and without moderation and at any point in the day? Probably not, and tech should be no different. You probably wouldn’t eradicate it completely, but you can manage it. Similarly, you wouldn’t let you kids go to bed when they want, or eat when they want… treat tech the same. Manage it and have a plan… and stick to it as much as poss. Be consistent.
I visited a school recently and in the window it had a sign that read: ‘Greet your child with a smile, not a phone’. I was a bit taken aback because I wondered who would be on their phone when picking up their kids. Yet this is the reality of where we are, and it’s sobering. Think about the image that portrays to your kids and let it be the motivator for your own behaviour.
Tech has less of a place for young kids. I’m not saying it has no place, but be mindful how much time kids spend using it. I see parents out for meals and their kids are on their phones. I can’t judge. No doubt some of those kids are on technology all the time, but some aren’t and for some parents, it can be really nice to reconnect with each other without distraction. But chat to your children about tech and why they can’t use it all the time. Agree slots with them so they know there’s a time and a place.
Keep the lure of tech away by going out, watching movies, playing sport. Tech makes children become solitary, so encourage the other things they love to do. Play, move, get fresh air…
In my Ted Talk, I mention a study in America where they analysed adult data usage when AT&T were rolling out their network coverage across the country. Amazingly, it found that in every county AT&T reached, there was a correlation between the network being rolled out and children spending more time in A&E, the reason being that adults weren’t supervising their kids as much. Don’t be ‘those guys’!
Ask yourself, do you use your phone in front of your children or partner? Do you pick up your phone if it rings when you’re with your kids? Set the standard and establish some rules. Have no phones at the table or times when phones are put away or on silent.
Going to the park is not an excuse to let the children roam free while you browse pictures of cats on Instagram. Watch and supervise! Research says that more and more children are exposed to intermittent adult attention, which means fleeting interactions rather than long interactions. This can affect their development, so when you’re with the family put your phone away. Simple.
I was plonked in front of the tele when I was a kid because my mum needed a break. Parenting is 24/7 and there’s no day off, so we all need respite. I get it. There is a difference between TV and tech, though. TV is passive, and you’re generally in the same space. Tech is more engaging. It’s more of an individual experience. It’s immersive, and most games or apps are built on the same algorithms as online gambling. That’s why there’s a lot of thumbs up, pings and likes, these things are designed to reinforce the dopamine system.
When you were a kid you’d argue with a friend and just go home and forget about it. These days, it continues and is more intense. Help your children to manage that, step away, and talk to people about what’s online. Be nosey and take an interest. Chat to other parents about it.
It’s a tough call. How streetwise or savvy or your kids? Develop and keep your trust. Always listen, always talk. You might not agree with how they use tech, or what they consider problematic, but don’t alienate them… their peer group and their issues are very different to yours. Establish a network of other parents and talk to them. What would you check in your child’s bedroom? It’s the same online. Be alerted if your kid really won’t tell you what’s going on… that’s an instant alarm bell.
Snapchat, Instagram… they all have age restrictions, but I see more and more younger people accessing these apps and more. Try and follow and uphold the age restrictions, though it can be hard as soon as kids enter secondary school. Kids aged 11 can feel left out and that’s a difficult one, but if you are going to let them use tech, monitor their use closely.
When kids are teens they’ll disappear into their rooms for long spells, but pre-teen it’s important to ensure they’re using tech in front of you. Don’t let them disappear on their own. They don’t have the ability to track time, so keep a close eye and monitor not only what they’re doing, but how long they’re doing it for.
Teens are an interesting breed. The whole process of adolescence is to individuate away from their family of origin and transition into their own adult identity, and so immersing themselves into something that’s not the family can be helpful. It used to be skate parks or playing football, but now it’s technology. Just be aware that online bullying is rife and exposure to grooming/nude pics is common. Teens still need parameters. They need to be aware of consequences. They’re still naïve, so help them manage themselves and their safety.