Unplugging for Your Family’s Health

We live in a complicated time when advancements in technology are occurring at lightning speed, and most of us have to keep up with the new developments to stay current in our jobs, in managing our exposure to and interaction with the media, and in communicating with one another. These advancements have changed so much about our world, from enabling us to “see” our family and friends from across the globe, to getting the most current news updates as events unfold and having all of this information and potential at our fingertips is incredible but it inevitably has a downside. Never before has built-in entertainment in the form of games, movies, television, and social media been so accessible and literally in our back pockets.

Checking our phone several times throughout the day has become thenorm and it is not uncommon to see people glancing at their phones while walking across the street, eating dinner at a restaurant, and even driving their cars.

This constant pull to the world inside our phone takes us away from the world right before our eyes, and undoubtedly impacts our relationships with one another, and if we are not careful, these effects carry over to our children. Children are great modellers of behaviour and they model what they are most exposed to, which is generally the people they live with. You. When they see nothing but people checking emails, texting, watching videos or posting photos on Instagram, they want to be involved in it as well. It is innocuous enough, with them watching educational videos (or cartoons), playing games that are designed to assist development, looking at photos or listening to music, but it quickly escalates into children spending several hours a day with a screen in front of them. Some of the concerns that are coming up with respect to screen time include an impaired ability to read human emotions and nonverbal cues, as well as an increase of childhood obesity, behavioural problems, and sleep disorders, which then brings up a longer list of risks. While use of iPad’s and computers in a school setting have a lot of educational benefits, there is clear evidence to support limiting exposure to screens and incorporating face-to-face interactions. In this part of the world, we are blessed with beautiful summers with no end to the offerings in the great outdoors, ranging from relaxing to exhilarating. While monitoring screen time should be something to be aware of at all times, summer is a great time to create opportunities to get your whole family to unplug and enjoy time together outside, establishing screen-free habits.

It won’t be easy to convince your children that less screen time is better, so it’s important to have everyone be on the same page about the rules and when you are taking a break, keep the devices out of sight (and out of mind!). Remember that the rules apply to everyone, though appropriately adults may be exceptions to the rules (as occasionally they have to do things like take calls from clients in labour). Be consistent. Start slowly, and plan some fun outings for your family, leaving any non-essential devices at home. Go for a family bike ride (and grab some ice cream on your way home), go spend the day at the lake, or even just plan a family barbecue outside. Prepare for resistance, because our devices are addictive and we ALL get used to having those amazing little computers in our hand, but push through it. Talk about why it’s hard, which is also what makes it so important to ration. Spending dedicated device-free time together will help your family to spend some quality time together, to be more active, and potentially develop some new interests. Setting limits on device time will go one step further and cultivate your children’s ability to form better relationships, perform better in school, and even sleep better at night. As a member of the newly minted “Xennial” generation, I have the unique perspective of having grown up with no devices (other than a television) and then becoming an adult in a device-driven world.

I can see the difference in terms of how we communicate with one another, how we spend our time alone, and perhaps most importantly, how we spend our time together. Our younger generations learn much about how to behave from us, so we need to demonstrate the value in truly spending time together, having conversations face-to-face, and not always having half of our brain thinking about our game, or social media, or that work email. They need to learn the beauty of being “unplugged” and the simplicity of just being present in a moment, alone or with company, and they need to learn it from us.