I think we can agree that many of us spend too much time on laptops, tablets and our smartphones. This Father’s Day, I have a suggestion for dads and father figures alike—Unplug your devices for a day, or even half a day – and get your kids to do the same.
The second part of this suggestion may be the most challenging, because this generation probably can’t remember a time before technology was so pervasive (and persuasive). Let’s call it Dad’s Analog Afternoon, though you may have to explain that term to them.
Father’s Day seems like an optimal time to take stock of what it means to be a parent in the digital age. I believe we can all be better dads to our kids by simply putting down our devices for set periods of time and helping them do the same.
Here’s advice I’m working to integrate into my own life, as a father to young children. So when I say ‘you,’ I also mean ‘we.’ You have to lead by example. Show your kids that you’re disciplined enough to compartmentalize the digital part of your life.
To help our teenagers and younger children develop healthier relationships with social media, we need to put our own devices down when we get home and start setting a better example by interacting with them directly.
The “do as I say…” mentality is hard to break. One great example of this disconnect: a recent story in the New York Times found that upper-income parents were attempting to outsource their responsibilities as role models to nannies, telling them to limit “screen time” on their watch, take the kids to the park and encourage them to play puzzles and challenging exercises.
However, the moment the parents returned, they (the parents) were immediately consumed by their own devices. So, for their children, it’s monkey see, monkey do.
I have another example from my own life as a Silicon Valley dad. Taking a more active role in the lives of my children, I’m perpetually amused by the parents on the playground staring intently at their phones while their kids are running around. Believe me, it won’t be long before these children are mimicking their parents, choosing the latest iteration of Angry Birds or Candy Crush over actual physical activity.
Research shows that our kids have a tech problem that we, as dads, can help them solve.
In an informative article called “Technology as a Distraction” on the Raising Digital Natives site, Devorah Heitner, PhD shares research from iKeepSafe—28% of teens report that their digital engagement interferes with schoolwork. Even outside the classroom, 44% of tweens admit that their digital pursuits pull them away from school work, spending time with friends and exercise.
The same study shows that 14% of adults acknowledge they too need to spend less time with technology. But let’s be honest–the real percentage of us who need to taper off our tech use is much higher. A 2016 Pew Research survey found that smartphone owners spend five hours a day on their phones, double the time they were spending in 2013.
Obviously, almost no one needs to spend five hours a day on a phone; most of us could function just fine on two hours or less of smartphone use. Conversely, we do need our phones! Most of us aren’t in a position (personally or professionally) to unplug completely, because digital engagement brings about significant advantages in our lives.
While tech use can become too much of a good thing, it IS often a useful tool. That’s what makes finding a balance such a challenge—we need some tech, some of the time, just not too much tech, ALL of the time. So we shouldn’t expect total digital abstinence for our kids, either.
Dr. Heitner also includes an insightful bit of advice:
“Be open with your kids about your own experiences with distraction. Tell them your struggles – how it can be a drain on your productivity at work or that it feels tough to keep up with sometimes. Knowing this can be very helpful to them and make them feel like their own struggles aren’t abnormal.”
To some extent we’ve all become addicted to our devices. So setting boundaries for digital-age kids is extra hard. I get it. When you set boundaries, especially at first, you’re going to have the angriest child in the world screaming at you when you take their phone away after 15-30 minutes.
The games they’re playing are appealing to the chemicals in their bodies in ways we don’t yet fully understand. So make helping them find balance your mission. Discover the joys of analog living by playing with them, reading to them or with them (depending on their age, obviously). It’s about giving them a paintbrush, literal or metaphorical, and modeling efficient ways to get their work done while still enjoying time in the digital world after important tasks are completed.
When it comes to helping your distracted kids regain their focus, I have a few good suggestions. It’s detailed in my book Lifescale, and a lot of other sources agree with me that the Pomodoro Technique (named for a tomato-shaped kitchen timer) is a useful tool for compartmentalizing work, for the digitally distracted of all ages. This method breaks the flow into 30-minute segments of time. You can teach your kids to spend 25 minutes working before breaking for the remaining five minutes. It’s a great way to keep them focused on a task for manageable periods of time.
An article by Carl Hooker on iste.org even mentions that there’s a Pomodoro-related app called 30/30 – the irony being, of course, that you need to keep your phone on to use it.
Hooker also offers some great pieces of evergreen “old school” advice, perfect for our Analog Father’s Day: “When all else fails, sometimes we just have to go back to our primitive roots and walk outside for some fresh air (without our phones).”
While we’re setting an example, let’s start to manage our own schedules better and take some time off from work.
It’s true that some of us really can’t afford to take time off, especially those without paid vacation days, but more of us just won’t do it. Forbes reports that “even when Americans have paid time off…they’re reluctant to use it: Only 36 percent of respondents who have paid vacation time plan to use all of it this year. And 13 percent of workers with paid time off don’t intend to use any of their vacation days.”
So with the official launch of summer just days away, here’s another suggestion–If you have paid time off coming to you, use it. This doesn’t mean you have to take two weeks off without interruption (some of us simply can’t) or plan an expensive trip. However, a handful of long weekends which include time for you to unplug and spend some tech-free time with your children is a great idea.
In this mini Father’s Day Manifesto I’ve thrown out a lot of tech reduction suggestions for you and your kids. If, like me, you tend to be a perfectionist, try not to carry this tendency over into your efforts to minimize tech use. Ease into it.
Obviously, you don’t want to introduce your kids to all of these tech management options on June 16th, but a relaxing Sunday is a great way to start integrating tech-free time into their schedules, and yours.
Let this tech-free day or afternoon be your gift to each other on this day of paternal appreciation.
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