For many years, adults have been quick to point the finger at kids and teens and declare that they’re ‘addicted’ to their digital devices and constantly distracted. Whilst very few of us would argue against the fact that many young people are spending inordinate amounts of time plugged in to devices (for both leisure and learning) and that their attention spans are certainly waning (let’s be honest, we struggle with this too), the reality is that, as adults, we’re often drawn into the digital vortex.
Many of us are yelling for our kids to switch off their devices… from behind our own phones or laptops. We’re not being good digital role models. Whilst many of us try to justify our digital habits under the guise of ‘work’, the harsh reality is that many of us as adults have developed some unhealthy and unsustainable digital habits.
That’s why I wrote Dear Digital, We need to Talk. As parents, educators and other adults that play a significant role in our kids’ lives, we have to tame our toxic tech habits. I’m not for a moment suggesting that we abstain from using technology around our kids- that’s completely outdated and unhelpful advice in 2023 when technology plays an integral part in our daily lives, both professionally and personally. However, we need to start using our devices in ways that are healthy and sustainable. We need to role model healthy digital behaviours, the kind of digital habits that we want our kids and teens to emulate.
The pandemic certainly forced many of us to change our digital habits. Many of us spent more time than ever online. I’m raising my hand here too. However, I think we’re currently seeing a bit of a ‘digital hangover’- some unhealthy tech habits have crept into our lives, for both us and our kids and teens. Now is the time for us to take back control. To stop being a slave to the screen. It’s time for us to start using our devices in ways that are aligned with our biological blueprint. And that’s exactly what I explore in Dear Digital, We need to Talk.
Below is an excerpt from the book. I share this story often in parent seminars (with permission, of course) and I’m inundated with parents who vulnerably share with me after the seminar, that this story struck a chord with them. It’s a story that forces many people to re-evaluate their tech habits. It’s a story that could be any of us. It’s a story, I hope, that inspires us to make a change and to start being more intentional with our digital habits. Not only for us, but for our kids and teens too.
Jessica tossed her daughter Harper’s school bag in the back of the car, climbed into the driver’s seat and winked at her in the rear vision mirror. She started to ask Harper about her day at school when a phone call interjected. She ignored the call, and when the voicemail notification illuminated her screen, she could also see the myriad of other notifications that had accumulated in the short time she’d left her phone in the car to walk into after-school care to pick up Harper. Not another message, Jessica thought. Her technostress was rising yet again.
Harper glanced out the window, feeling despondent that her mum’s phone had once again diverted her attention. Harper interrupted her mum’s spiralling thoughts and foreboding sense of overwhelm. ‘Mum, how much do you earn per hour?’
Jessica was as perplexed by Harper’s question as she was proud of it. She explained that she earned a salary and would need to do some calculations to answer Harper’s question.
Later that night, after dealing with the voicemail issue, triaging her inbox and replying to the multitude of WhatsApp messages that had amassed during the day, she went into Harper’s bedroom to read with her and kiss her goodnight. She climbed into Harper’s bed and explained that she’d done some calculations to determine her ‘hourly rate’. She expected Harper to be impressed by the number, or perhaps to start asking about potential career options.
Instead, Harper turned and said to her mum, ‘Okay, I’d like to buy an hour of your time without your phone. Now I know how much pocket money I’ll need.’
Jessica gasped, held her chest and closed her eyes. This is not how she wanted her daughter to remember her childhood, with her mum – and often her dad – constantly tethered to technology.
Jessica tried to mentally reconcile the stinging words her daughter had innocently said. She was often on her phone, working, so she could be with Harper at soccer. She was checking emails while cooking dinner. She was doing her makeup and trying to reply to the SMS her friend had sent three days earlier. However, she knew that her digital load had grown exponentially in recent times – especially since she started to work remotely three days a week – and that, as hard as it was to admit, she was often staring at her phone. Digital intruders had started to creep into every crevice of her life.
Jessica’s story is not unique. You can likely see yourself in this story or in a similar scenario, even if you don’t have children.
Many of us knowledge workers – people who spend the bulk of our workday using a laptop or desktop computer – are spending more time attached to technology. In fact, research indicated that during the COVID-19 pandemic adults were spending an average of 13.28 hours per day on digital devices! It has been estimated that the average Australian will spend almost 17 years of their life on their phone, equating to around 33 per cent of their waking hours (see figure 0.1 opposite).
We’ve become slaves to the screen, both professionally and personally. It’s time for us to take back control and start to use technology in ways that are congruent with our biological blueprint. It’s time for us to thrive in the digital world.
Leave a Reply