The Two Sides of Technology in Life & Parenting
By Unyte's Founder, Jason Tafler
“I thought we said no iPad after dinner?!” I said with an agitated tone to my 10-year old son the other day. “Dad, I just want to play my games for 10 more minutes,” he replied without glancing my way. “Son, we have rules in this house…” “But Dad!!!” And with that, I became aware of the argument I was starting that would likely go on for 30 minutes. I took a deep breath and tried to figure out a better way to come up with a solution with my son, instead of telling him what to do. I recalled my mindfulness training and Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s amazing book on Conscious Parenting, and I tried to remember what she would do in this challenging situation that somehow repeats itself almost every night in our house!
The fact is - technology is very powerful and can be a double-edge sword. We have seen how our culture's attachment to devices can have negative consequences in many ways - from being wired and connected 24/7 without time to recharge and regenerate, to constantly comparing oneself to others on social media, to becoming addicted to the technology itself, which studies show can have harmful effects on the brain.
In particular, technology has made parenting more challenging than ever. I see this every day with my son who struggles with anxiety and sensory processing challenges. I find that he can easily get absorbed in his devices and games, and that more often than not, he gets more agitated, anxious and dysregulated after prolonged use, and especially when I try to intervene!
I believe strongly that, for the reasons outlined below, technology is an important contributor to the mental and physical health challenges that we and our children face on a daily basis:
- Devices and apps are built to create habits and can be addictive
- Social media can cause challenges due to bullying (tied to anonymity), comparisons, and the fear of missing out
- Spending too much time alone on screens can be isolating and unhealthy, both mentally and physically
- The always-on nature of life can create stress and anxiety, as people feel helpless and that they can’t escape from the overwhelm that comes with information and communication overload
As someone who has worked in technology for almost 20 years and who lives with its impact every day in our business and in my home, I’m both fascinated with and personally impacted by this topic. After reading dozens of books and articles and speaking with many experts in this area, I’ve pulled together five specific suggestions below that I believe can help make a positive impact on how you engage with the technology in your life, as well as on your relationships with yourself and your other family members:
- Be aware/mindful of how you use technology: Every positive action starts with awareness. If you ask yourself or your kids "how long have you spent on your phone today?”, you or they might say "1 hour”, but when you track the actual usage, it will likely be more like four hours! In addition, our kids absorb and copy what we do, so try your best not to be hypocritical. If you live more in the present and model the technology-related behaviour you’d like from your children, they will begin to mirror your behavior and positive habits over time.
- Co-create a plan with your family: From a place of awareness and compassion, co-create a plan and guidelines with your family members. If they are aware of how much time they spend on their devices, they will likely use them less. This could include disconnected time, screen time goals, or using tracking tools such as Apple Screen Time, which presents data on your usage and allows you to set time limits on apps so you’re locked out of them. After struggling for many years as an authoritarian style parent, I really like two more collaborative approaches to creating solutions - Non-Violent Communication and Ross Greene’s approach to parenting challenging kids.
- Use technology for good: This could include relaxation, mindfulness or meditation apps or programs such as Smiling Mind or Kid Evolve. Beyond mindfulness, there are many other helpful technology tools, including mobile apps that can connect people to therapists and coaches (such as Betterhelp or Inkblot), as well as other online courses that can help people create new daily habits that lead to happier, healthier and more well-rounded lives.
- Learn new skills: Help yourself and your children learn how to deal with the stresses and anxieties of technology and the broader world. By learning skills like mindfulness, self-awareness and resilience, they will build confidence and gain perspective so they can calm their nervous systems more easily and be better able to handle daily challenges. We find using this non-digital Growing Mindful card deck helps our son become more aware and connected.
- Have compassion: This is a tough one, but as Kristin Neff says, try not to be too hard on yourself or your family members. Practice mindfulness, compassion, and acceptance. Does the fact that your child has challenges with technology mean that you love them any less? Try to have empathy and look at it from their perspective, as this is not an easy journey and we’re all in it together.
At Unyte, we believe that using technology as a bridge to help people is very important. For example, young people are already on their devices most of the day, and they are playing all types of games as well, some with negative connotations. We provide a way for them to instead use their devices and our interactive exercises/games as a conduit to self-awareness, self-regulation and relaxation. Even just 5-10 minutes a day calming themselves with breathing exercises and relaxing images and sounds can be a powerful way to put their minds and bodies into a relaxed state, so they can regenerate and recharge. This also teaches them important mindfulness skills and helps them become more resilient when they go back to facing the inevitable stresses and challenges of their daily lives.
Technology can be a powerful tool with many great benefits, but as we’ve seen, it can also create many new types of challenges in our lives and in our relationships with our families. The good news is that more and more people are speaking up, and we are having an honest dialogue about technology addiction, mental health, and the role of technology companies in creating solutions. This is an important first step toward creating change. I am inspired by the many parents, health professionals, entrepreneurs and organizations that are trying to make a difference and address this challenge by using technology for good.Please comment below to share your own experiences, feedback and thoughts, and please let us know if you have come across any positive ideas or tools to help address this challenge.