Yesterday I was at another presentation about device usage and the importance of limiting it to our children and ourselves, and when the time for Q&A came, a parent asked THE QUESTION. He said: “We know that these things (programs that we commonly use in our devices to entertain ourselves) are developed by experts with the intention of getting us hooked (or addicted) to them. How can we parents, who are not expert at all in this field, and are also victims of getting hooked, fight against something that is dominating us and our children?”
“Excellent question!”, I said to myself, expecting a superb answer from the presenter. Well, THE answer did not come and I left the presentation with many thoughts and a very clear objective: to figure this thing out.
I started thinking about myself and also asked my teenage children, how could we prevent getting hooked to our devices, what would make us reduce our device usage and more specifically, when and why are we using our devices and when and why are we happy to stop using them. It took us being very honest with ourselves and then the answer came straight and easy: we get hooked to our devices when we’re bored or anxious, and friends and fun are THE reasons why we are always happy to put them aside.
“Great”, I said, “Friends and fun! That’s the answer! We need to increase the amount of time that we spend with friends or we do fun stuff and problem solved!” Not so easy though. I immediately came back to my senses and acknowledged that it’s much easier to grab a device when one is bored or anxious than to arrange for a friend date or search for something fun to do. In the world that we live in, friends are not always available and the kind of fun that we are looking for to substitute the entertainment that our devices deliver, is not easy to recreate either. Our devices are always there, always ready to provide us with big emotions. The addictive kind.
Considering these “environmental restrictions”, I developed a plan which we are using at our house and is working.
Here it is.
Don’t go crazy. My idea is not to become device free but device balanced. We live in a world where we need our devices for all kinds of things (including this article that I’m writing right now) so deciding to give them up all the way would be unrealistic, at least for me and my family. Being device balanced on the contrary, is something that I can definitely do. What does being device balanced mean? It means to be aware of when and why I’m using my device. If the answer is I’m using it because I’m bored or anxious,then it’s the time to turn it off and let it go. Same rule for all family members.
Be aware of the challenge. Letting go requires one very important thing though: to have a substitute ready to kick in. When we have something that we like and serves a purpose, if we let it go, a vacuum is generated. This vacuum creates discomfort, anxiety, restlessness, bad mood, a tantrum, you name it, and as long as this emptiness is not filled back with something comparable to what was there before, these unpleasant feelings and behaviors won’t disappear. Think of a child that was enjoying a delicious lollipop and suddenly her parent takes it away. End of the world!
For our device balancing objective then, we need to have a substitute ready to kick in. Something that has the ability to provide us with a similar, comparable kind of entertainment as the device does. That’s why we need a plan.
The plan. Think what makes you feel good. What entertains you. What makes you happily want to stop using a device and arrange for these things to be available to you before you let go of your device (if not, chances are that you won’t let go of or very quickly go back to it). A magazine, a book, crosswords, games to play with your kids, going for a walk, meeting with a friend, a craft, drawing materials. Anything. Whatever works for you. Make a list and arrange for whatever materials you need, or plan for friend dates in advance. Only then, put your device aside.
What about the kids? The young and the not so young ones. Ask them this same question and arrange for what’s needed to be available. Is it friend dates? Arrange for them beforehand (or have them arrange them themselves) and add them to your calendar. Even if they are 2 weeks away, they are still there and if you keep on generating them, you might have enough each week to keep your children more time off of their devices. Is it arts and crafts? Plan with your children for the necessary materials in advance. Books? Make a trip to the library. Outside play? Going to the park? Drawing with chalk on the sidewalk? Whatever will entertain them enough to not be on their devices (and is acceptable to you, of course), make a list, have it handy and use it.
Talk with other parents. Start a conversation with other parents and share your goal. You’ll be surprised to find how many parents feel the same way that you do and are ready to put a plan to work together.
Actively choose to be device balanced. You are the only one who can make a change happen for yourself and for your kids. You are their role model, their inspiration and their life guide and until you (and me) won’t start acting, nothing will change. Luckily, the power of choosing is in our hands. We just have to choose.
Last and not least, do not pity yourself or your kids. We live in an era of abundance were it’s quite easy to get what we please, when we please it. Many things happen instantly and when they don’t, we are not willing to tolerate it. We’ve gotten very spoiled (for good and bad), so when we do not get what we want fast enough, we get upset, our anxiety level rises and in the case of electronics vs. non electronics, many times we give up. It’s challenging to come up with a plan of what to do when not using our devices and even more challenging to stick to the plan.The secret to succeed here is not to pity ourselves or our children. Not to say “oh, poor me” or “poor them”. Pity comes from the belief that a person is incapable of something. Are we really incapable of overcoming this balancing challenge? Are your children? I really don’t think so.
A good life is all about balance my friends and I believe that we all can achieve this. We can.
Cheers to a more balanced life!
Certified Adlerian Parenting Educator,
Classroom Management Mentor.