Technology is Driving us to Distraction

Ingrid Pincott, ND

Well it is that time of year again where households with children prepare for the school year. What better time to review the household addiction to their “devices”?

On January 6th 2018 in the Globe and Mail the article “Your Smart Phone Addiction is Making you stupid, anti-social and unhealthy, so why can’t you put it down?”  By now, most adults using these devices are aware that their addiction is real, stimulating dopamine response just like other addictions such as drugs and alcohol. The average user looks at their phone 150 times  a day, spending anywhere from three to five hours on their device.  As a health concern, how can you address this in your family?

Recognizing that you have a problem is always the first step to dealing with any serious issue.  Working with your own addiction first before tackling your children’s is important.  What really underscores the issue with parents is the sad and disheartening article this summer in the UK Guardian, Child drownings in Germany linked to parents’ phone “fixation.”  That’s a real story:

“More than 300 people have drowned in Germany this year, with hardly a day passing during the current heatwave when a swimmer has not died. The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) – the biggest organisation of its kind in the world, providing 40,000 volunteer lifeguards at German beaches, lakes and the coast – has made a direct connection between children getting into difficulty in the water and parents being too busy on their mobile phones to notice.

“Too few parents and grandparents are heeding the advice: when your children and grandchildren are in the water, put your smartphone away,” Achim Wiese, the DLRG’s spokesman, said. “

When the Globe said phones are making us stupid it sounded amusing.  Here’s a perfect example of a mobile phone making parents, literally, stupid!

Tristan Harris, a former “product philosopher” at Google, educates people through Time Well Spent on the dangers of the social media platform that causes spurts of dopamine creating real addictions. A former vice-president of Facebook prohibits his own children from social media! In The Big Disconnect Catherine Steiner-Adair explains children ages four through18 feel frustration, fatigue and loss when they come home to parents who are on their devices. With recent spikes in mental health issues, including ADD, among adolescents and the concomitant rise in electronic devices it behooves parents to learn ways to set limits on smartphone usage.

According to a Huffington Post article August 28, 2018 here are some key guidelines to use with yourself as well as your children:

1.Children and teens must understand their phone actually belongs to the parents and using it is a privilege, not a right. Open communication helps kids know the rules are coming from a place of love and concern for their safety.

  1. Get educated and involved about what social media channels/platforms are being used and why.
  2. Control privacy as much as you can by creating tight settings on their apps (see Cybersafe BC for a list of excellent resources).
  3. Set age appropriate rules. No devices should be kept in the bedroom overnight at any age! (Why not go back to battery run alarm clocks, if a click is needed? Plus there’s no EMF with a regular clock). Changing Wi-Fi passwords, using apps to remotely shut down a child’s WiFi access, installing a security browser extension, or spot-checking social media engagement can also help with both safety and developing trust in online activities. Kids learn most by example, so parents should walk the talk and put away the phones during meals or family time, and before bed.
  4. Coach Kids to think critically. This is a good phrase to remember: If you’re concerned your parents will see it, you should be concerned about everyone else seeing it, too.
  5. Start early with setting limits and monitoring. For example children in grades 4-6 should not have a phone that can connect to WiFi.
  6. Set-up online gaming rules with your children and monitor; if the rules are not followed the phone can be taken away for a period of time.
  7. Watch for changes in your tween’s or teen’s behavior.

Another person with good tips is Alyson Schafter.  Her “How to get your child off the Ipad cooperatively” is really just good general parenting!

-Give them a five minute warning

-If there is a fight about getting off the device then the child loses their privileges for one day.

-Allot time per week that the child can be on the device. Once they use this time up there is no reprieve no matter how important that game is!

Set an example for the family. Do not use your devices or let your children use them for at least two hours per day. It is best not to start or end the day with them for better sleep habits, and to be less distracted as you start your work or school day. When children come home from school make time for them, without devices, to connect with them about their day before dinner.

Turn off the blue light. The blue light emitting from your devices can contribute to eye strain and even disease. According to the Canadian Association of Optometrists this blue light is contributing to increase risk of macular degeneration, damage to the retina and vision loss and cataracts. Apply Night Shift or Twilight to your devices from 10 pm to 7am. Optometrists provide protective eye wear or yellow tinting of lenses as options.

Better options for reading at bedtime which is highly recommended as a parasympathetic activity is to use the Kindle or Kobo devices. These do not use blue light technology and are fine for night time reading in bed without the hidden flashlight! Most libraries provide books for the Kobo free of charge.

Fasting from social media for a day at a time once per week may be a family goal. Go for a day hike, play card games, or go somewhere where there is no WiFi. These are all exercises in grounding which are beneficial for lowering cortisol in the body and stimulating the parasympathetic system instead. Your family will be healthier physically and emotionally and smarter too!