Every time we talk to a mum lately, they’re bemoaning the encroachment of technology on their lives. While it helps so much to have information at your fingertips – such as Motherpedia’s new App – coming with the convenience is also the constant connection.
One mum, Christina, who has a 7-year-old and 4-year old said to us that she feels as if she’s addicted to her electronics.
“They’re like appendages more than accessories. If I’m not actually holding one of them, I’m looking at them. And if I think I’ve misplaced one, I almost panic.”
But it’s even worse, Christina told us.
“I have four email accounts – two for work, our family one for household accounts and the like and my really personal one – and I’m always looking at them. I’m always checking Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Pinterest to stay ‘in the loop’ and I’m kind of addicted to games also.”
Christina says she’s not alone.
“I don’t think I’m on my own here.”
Neither do we. While technology makes our life easier and more efficient, it also makes us more accessible and results in our lives being less personal, less focussed and less engaged.
Another mum with grown-up kids, Eve, said she couldn’t remember when her daughters, aged 26-32, last telephoned her.
“They text me and tell me to check something they’ve written on Facebook, but they haven’t actually picked up the phone and had a conversation with me in months and months.”
Dr Hilarie Cash, author of Video Games & Your Kids: How Parents Can Stay in Control, says that everyone has the potential to become addicted to technology. She says the key is learning how to manage it. She says going ‘cold turkey’ doesn’t work for most.
“For example, if you’re a mum working from home, it’s not practical to just turn everything off at home because it’s also your workplace.”
Instead she recommends an ‘e-tox’ using these seven steps.
1. Admit you have a problem
Your family and friends are not likely to be surprised when you sit them down and tell them this, but say it out loud anyway. At least they’ll realise you’re serious and they can help you.
2. Decide to start
It’s helpful if you can get away from your house and normal day-to-day routine to kick-start your e-tox. If you can, go on weekend away with your family where you can focus on new activities. But even if you can’t go away, start at the end of your working week to give yourself a few days away from ‘having’ to be connected. Have at least a two-or three-day break to normalise brain function for a mild addiction, longer for a more serious one.
3. Set reasonable parameters
You can’t necessarily be expected to just turn-off everything. That can be impractical for many reasons, but think in terms of harm reduction. If you’re someone who’s drawn to social media or if you’re an excessive texter, choose to give that up for a while.
4. Accept withdrawal pains
People may experience similar withdrawal symptoms with electronics as they would with chemical dependencies, including restlessness, anxiety or depression. This is why it helps to schedule activities outside of the house which is where family can help.
5. Do a reality check
Unless you’re a doctor, nurse or emergency service worker, it’s unlikely that you really need to answer a call or text message outside of normal business hours. If you’re a business owner, and clients insist on calling you at 8.30pm for a chat, simply don’t take the call; if they send an email, don’t answer it until the next workday morning. By not being available and not responding, they will get the message that the evening, or weekend is your time, not their time.
6. Set car rules
This deserves a step all its own simply because if you don’t set parameters in your car, you’ll wind up in big trouble (actual danger notwithstanding). If you can’t stop yourself from texting while in the car, then put the phone in your handbag and put the bag in the boot of the car.
7. Find a new normal
When you return from your e-tox weekend – whether you go away or not - there will be times when you’re tempted to go back to your old pattern – which is why it’s helpful to have someone in the house who will remind you not to do so. But if you do the e-tox diligently, you will soon find that your computer, phone and tablet become the helpful tools they’re meant to be – and not something that rules your life for 18 hours a day.
Dr Cash says if your children are emulating you (or your partner) and are also too attached to tech, here are some tactics to try.
1. Eat gadget-free
Resist the urge to hand your little guy your smartphone the minute you enter a restaurant. Instead, have him pick the topic of conversation before you get there so he’s ready to launch into it once you sit down.
2. Set boundaries
Reward kids with computer time after they’ve done homework or chores. Just don’t let it get too close to bedtime—the lights will stimulate their little brains.
3. Go outside
My one piece of advice to any parent with children is: get them outside. It doesn’t matter what they do, because they will find something to do. Let them climb a tree; play hide-and-seek in the backyard; just run around being crazy. There’s no reason to be indoors clicking away on a sunny day.
4. Let them be bored
This is where creative imaginations work best. Always using electronics to fill down-time can stifle kids’ creativity and their interactions with others. You’re the parent; you set the parameters. If you don’t give kids electronics or TV time, eventually they’ll have to come up with something else to do.