6 Steps to Help Your Family Restore Digital Balance in Stressful Times
Editor’s Note: This is part II in a series on helping families protect their mental and digital health in times of chronic stress. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or treatment.
Over the past year of remote life, technology has become both a lifeline and a life sucker. We’ve witnessed technology author amazing moments of human connection impossible just a few decades ago. At the same time, we’ve also seen isolation and disconnection quietly settle in alongside those wins.
As discussed in our last blog, studies now confirm living under ongoing pandemic stress has triggered a growing mental health crisis across age groups. While experts debate the degree technology contributes to that crisis, all agree the increase in digital connection over the past decade has diminished important forms of human connection considered essential to mental health.
How much is too much?
While device use has spiked during the pandemic, the rise in tech dependence is nothing new. Our digital immersion over time has generated terms such as “phubbing,” aka phone snubbing, now known as looking at your phone over the person in front of you. It’s also why doctors now treat excessive online gaming a legitimate addiction. We also know that social media companies intentionally design apps to keep us logging on, tagging, scrolling, and, most importantly sharing our data.
With more parents and kids now working and learning from home — which has only amplified time online — successfully balancing our tech feels even more impossible.
A big struggle for many parents continues to be: How much tech is too much and how can we strike a healthy balance?
The answer to that question will look different for every family. And frankly, the answer continues to evolve almost daily. The more we know, the more we can respond and recalibrate (as well as equip our kids) to move toward that healthy balance. Here are just a few of the best practices to inspire you forward.
6 Steps to Help Restore Digital Balance
Start over right now. Sure, you should start establishing digital habits when your kids are young. But, life. Things happen. Pandemics hit. Rules go out the window. So, start right now, right here, knowing better and doing better. Consider parental controls that will help you set healthy screen limits for kids (and yourself) and monitor the content coming into your home.
Do it together. A healthy digital balance is an all-in, family huddle, team endeavor kind of thing. No edicts or mandates tend to work here. Explain the “why” behind needed changes to your digital routines and the physical, social, and emotional reasons why balance is so important.
Separate home and work. Because so many parents are working from home, the temptation to overwork is very real. Home and work life can easily fuse together. This fusion makes it impossible to model a balanced digital life for your kids. Consider drawing thick lines between work and home. A few ideas: Maintain a separate office in the home. At close of business, shut off all devices. Create media free zones for your family after 5 p.m. such as the dinner table, homework time, friend time, and family time.
Just say “no” to notifications. Pause to examine: What unacceptable digital distractions have I accepted? Are things like email, push notifications, and alerts on my phone interrupting important conversations and time with friends and family? Flip those switches.
Ask yourself what’s missing. Technology isn’t “bad” and a lot of the time we spend online is either essential to our livelihood or a healthy social life (this especially applies tweens, teens, and young adults). Even so, when we step over that line of healthy digital behavior, do we have the courage to ask ourselves what healthy activity am I sacrificing right now? Have I put an important relationship on the back burner? Do I have an important deadline I’m ignoring? Have I let a hobby, sport, or physical exercise go? Have I sidelined outdoor activities for screen time? All of these are important, honest questions to ask yourself (and pose to your kids) to move closer to a healthy digital balance.
Put technology in its place. Stop to evaluate the role you’ve given technology in your life personally and in your home. Do you need to dust off your tech ground rules? Consider putting screens down when others are talking, being intentional about making eye contact, and listening in a way that requires your full attention. Make family mealtimes, outings, and game nights phone free.
Balance increases over time and establishing smarter, healthier family habits is a marathon, not a sprint. Every step is big so celebrate your milestones and give yourself grace to make this not-so-easy trek back to a balanced digital life. As Nike says about getting physically fit, we can say about getting back our digital health, “No one has ever regretted it.”