A Different Kind of “Diet” for the New Year?


, ,

text msg pic

SOOOO many parents have asked me about the impact of screens (of all types) that I KNOW you KNOW something’s up with teens and screens. So it was gratifying to read in The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Jan 10, 2018, page B1, “Silicon Valley Now Wary of iPhone” by Tripp Mickle) that the experts, which includes Mark Zuckerberg, are ready to say that (wait for it….) all this screen time might not be good for kids. To say nothing of adults! Mr. Mickle notes that there is a tussle between major investors in Apple Inc. over young people’s use of iPhone.

Also recently noted:

    The research has established clearly that kids who spend more time on Facebook are more depressed and experience more social isolation than those who spend less time.
    Some high schools (and social events, see link) are experimenting with a new phone check-in device at school, a bag which locks the device in for the day so that kids can carry their phones but cannot activate them during class. Want to guess the results?

WSJ video

    The constant pinging of phones creates brain activity (in kids and adults) which looks markedly like ADHD, the inability to sustain meaningful attention to tasks or to interactions.

The list goes on and on. But I suspect you’ve already noticed much of this in your home, office, life! Is it more damaging for teens than for adults? What’s a parent to do?

The answer to the first question is yes, on average, it IS more damaging to kids since their brains are in the process of forming. Neural tracks laid down during adolescence tend to be lifelong patterns. Plus, teen years are critical for learning numerous social nuances like how to read someone else’s facial cues; how to attend to tone of voice or pauses or hesitations in conversation; how to be patient while someone else musters their thoughts; how to read between the lines of what someone else is saying.

The second question, what’s a parent to do, depends a lot on what’s happening in your home. For example, how radical a “tech diet” does your family need? How radical a diet can y’all tolerate? Are tiny steps better than cold turkey? What are your realistic needs around tech communication?

A couple of examples I heard of recently include the mom of a large family who, during the summer, had 2 tech-free days a week, including parents! The five teenagers in their home really, really grumbled…until they realized what creative bliss began on those days. Hardest of all, the mom reported, was curbing dad’s tech use. They began as an “experiment” (embedding the idea of just trying it on for a short while) but ended up loving it.

A more radical example I heard of was a kid who spent a Swiss semester abroad. A requirement of the program is NO screens: no phone, no computer, no tablet, no laptop. All communication was done in person, by phone or in writing…as in pen or pencil. It was a novel experience for most of the kids to walk down the street to make dinner reservations in person. Parents treasured hand-written letters from their kids. Curiously, students reported making some of the best friends they’d ever had through, can you imagine, long conversations! In person, one may assume.

While Mr. Zuckerberg pledged to work this year toward, “making sure time spent on Facebook is time well spent,” as parents, our focus might be more direct. Let’s begin from a pro-wholesome point of view. “What would be good for us? What kind of relationships sustain us and how do we build those? What experiments can we make in going about this in a different way?” Perhaps each family member could propose his or her own experiment not so much to curtail tech-use but to enhance connection with others. Sharing successes and challenges at dinner time would be a great way to support one another and to build connection within the family. At the very minimum, beginning this dialogue would draw our attention to how much tech-connection we’re consuming.

To quote Tony Fadell, former senior Apple hardware executive,

‘Just like we need a scale for our weight,

we need a scale for our digital lives.’

Sounds like a new kind of diet might be on the way in 2018! Bet we’d all enjoy the benefits!