We've all seen the articles. Electronic devices are like crack to kids. News flash: it's not just kids.
You're probably reading this on a portable device that can do things that 2007 you wouldn't be able to comprehend. And you love it. And you need it.
You're addicted too. Much more than any child is. Sometimes you might be able to handle that better than a child on an emotional level, other times, not so much. Being connected and plugged in has this weird way of simultaneously disconnecting you in other areas. Namely social skills and reality.
Lynn and I broke out some old VHS home videos a few weeks ago. Tape after tape, the utter lack of technology (aside from the occasional NES or SNES system) was apparent. Our groups of friends had to sit and talk to each other. I know, weird, right? The 'coffee table' was actually something you sat around while you ate, drank, and conversed. Not so much anymore. The social scene, from home to public is littered with little glowing eyeball suckers.
Probably the most humorous (or tragic) example of our new alter-reality was something I witnessed at a 4th of July fireworks performance a few years back. A girl in front of us spent the whole show, not exaggerating, trying to take a good photo of the fireworks. Let that sink in for a moment. The show itself, the whole reason she was present, now meant less than the social bounty that comes with getting a single photo of a firework. The standard for today's reality is now:
Social Experiences < Social Media Engagement
Sharing life with strangers and/or casual acquaintances has become far more important to us than sharing it in the real world with your close friends and family. Somehow we got it bass-ackwards. But we had no warning, and no one wise enough yet to keep us in check. It was all just too new.
Think about it. We know now that smoking kills. Its absolutely terrible for our long-term health, but some 40-50 years ago, it was as common as smartphones are now. Our new connected life might not bring with it the same dire medical crisis that smoking did, but I think the unintended consequences are already upon us in the emotional sense. But much in the way that our parents protected us from the dangers of smoking, we need to do the same for our children now.
But how do we truly limit screen time when we refuse to do the same for ourselves?
Truth be told, I'm just as bad as everyone else (somewhere in my house right now, Lynn is reading this and nodding her head in agreement). Whether I'm mainlining news, fantasy sports, or the nearest social stream, that time takes away from everything else in this physical world. I'm guilty of smartphone attachment disorder (SAD!), but I'm starting to (slowly) be more conscious of it in an effort to curb the addiction. It's hard, dude.
I'm not saying that you're never allowed to enjoy your phone. There's a time and place for everything. But what we all need to be "plugged in" to more than anything right now is family. Our children. Our spouses. Our parents and siblings. Our close friends, the ones that would be there when you need them at a moment's notice.
We need less pinning of projects that we're never going to start because we're too busy pinning new ones. We need less time interacting with that person that you had class with that one time in junior year of high school that you haven't said one word to until they "friended" you on Facebook ten years later.
The digital revolution has happened so fast, that we've all lost our way a bit. When everything went wireless, it was supposed to give us freedom. What it really gave us was shackles, and our priorities got reshuffled in the process. It's time to put the deck back in order.
Our kids will undoubtedly follow in our misguided footsteps if we change nothing about today. They're wired to learn from us, for better or for worse. So lets start leading by example. And I'm not suggesting to go 100% off-grid and deprive your children of modern technology. There's a tremendous amount of good that our digital devices can bring to a child's development. The accessibility of educational information alone is phenomenal. We just need to start using devices as a tool, not a crutch, and start REALLY regulating them.
Weight screen time toward educational activities. Provide access to entertainment screen time on an earned basis, not an entitlement basis. And when they do get screen time for the 'fun stuff', have some friggin' fun with them. Chores will be there later. Games are fun. Bond with them and enjoy your time together.
This is where Nintendo got it right with the original Wii. They took something that was typically kids-only and made it a family affair. Cell phones and tablets broke that apart again. Find ways to bring that magic back. Start (and stick with) family board game time. Even though it's analog, there are some really awesome new board games out there, not to mention the classics from our childhood. Have regular movie nights. With popcorn. And Sno Caps. Bonus points if you turn it into a slumber party. Have dinner together, and then fire up Spotify on your iPad and have a dance party.
The key is to have fun together and leave unnecessary devices charging in another room. So lets normalize social time in the physical world once again. It's on us to fix it for the next generation. Because, let's face it. We now know better.