August 22, 2023

Making Time to Unplug and Reconnect

How many times have you looked at your phone in the last hour? How about in the last 15 minutes? For many, the answer is more than a few times. In our increasingly digital world, putting our devices down to reconnect with those around us can be difficult.

As life gets busier for parents and families, finding time to spend together can prove to be a challenge. According to a study conducted by Common Sense Media, 50% of youth report feeling addicted to mobile devices, and 59% of parents feel that their children are addicted to their screens. An astounding 77% of parents feel that their children are distracted by devices when they are together as a family at least several times a week. Where has this addiction come from? How do we get unplugged and reconnected, in person, with our loved ones? While there is no right or wrong solution, you can understand how technology impacts us and our families and find ways to reduce screen time.

Micro-Dosing Dopamine

What is dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that alerts other parts of our brain when we feel emotions like happiness, pleasure, or joy. Many studies have shown that dopamine increases when we use our devices. Instances like connecting with our families on social media or reading a heart-warming story on a news website are only some of the ways that our devices can activate dopamine. Even receiving a notification can cause dopamine to alert our brains.

While not everything we see on our phones, computers, or tablets triggers dopamine, over time, as we are exposed
further to these instances that do, our brains begin to associate our devices with these feelings of happiness. And as
a consequence, we begin to turn to them when we need a dopamine boost.

The Need to Be Social

By nature, humans are social animals. Devices have made it easier than ever to connect with others. From finding an old friend on Facebook to watching a review of a new product on YouTube, our technology helps us connect with others in ways we have not always been able to. Our social nature allows humans to feel less alone, learn from others,
and generally live a happier life.

The Cost of Being Constantly Connected

Between endless emails, texts, and phone calls, putting our devices down and being present can seem impossible.
However, disconnecting has many benefits. Research shows that it promotes a healthier work-life balance, reduces anxiety, and can reduce the risk of health issues like obesity, poor sleep, and poor posture.

Disconnecting to Reconnect

The first step to being unplugged can be as simple as turning off email notifications while spending time with family.
One of the best ways to be successful on your journey to becoming more unplugged is to be realistic with your goals. Starting small, like putting your phone down 30 minutes before bed, can be easier to attain at the beginning of your journey. Then, as that becomes easier, try putting your phone down one hour before bed. We can get discouraged when we do not see progress in our goals, which can be disappointing and lead us to give up altogether.

One way to understand how much time you spend on your devices is to pay attention to your usage. Some devices, like iPhones and Android phones, can track your screen time automatically. You may be surprised to see the results. Tracking your screen time can be a great tool to reassess the amount of time spent on your devices.

When it comes to spending time with family, there are some simple ways to ensure everyone is engaged. For some, it is challenging to put devices down, so it may be easier to start small, like having a screen-free dinner. Encourage conversations by asking funny “would you rather” type questions or diving a little deeper with a check-in with each person at the table. Check-in questions could look like “What was one thing you accomplished today?” or “How are you feeling about today?” By leading an engaging conversation, you can keep interest in the conversation. Another way to promote a screen-free meal is to stack all devices in the middle of the table, and the first person to reach for theirs has to complete a chore — like washing dishes, or helping to clean the table.


Back to School Rules

As summer winds down, it can be a great time to set expectations for the new school year. It is important to keep in mind that for some students, the start of a new school year comes with many changes and can be anxiety-inducing. So, introducing new expectations should be done slowly.

Every family is different and unique, and the needs of each can vary greatly, so it could be best to discuss these expectations as a family. Here are some ideas to help your students disconnect this school year:

  1. Set a realistic daily screen time limit, and stick to it. This goes for parents, too!
  2. Do not allow screens for a certain amount of time before bed.
  3. Create “phone-free” spaces.
  4. Monitor the content that is consumed, or audit the apps currently on devices. If an app or website consumes a lot of time in the day, consider removing it from the device. Many devices and kid-friendly apps have parental controls to help ensure your child only sees age-appropriate content.

There are many ways to spend time unplugged, so finding what works best for your family is crucial. One way to be successful is to create these goals as a family so that everyone can feel heard and expectations are clear. The transition can be difficult, and starting changes early can help your family adjust.

Becoming unplugged is a process and can take time for all family members to adapt. By reminding yourself and others of the benefits and that you are all in it together, spending less time on devices seems more attainable for a healthier family and a healthier you.