A favorite Buddha quote states “be where you are; otherwise you miss your life.” This can apply to many different things in our lives, but for now let’s look at it through the lens of technology and electronic devices. The advancements in these is dramatically changing the way that members of society interact with one another, and making it easier and easier to be someplace that we are not. How many of us have been in the same room with a friend while they are texting and surfing the internet, only to find that their mind is anywhere but present and there is no connection between the two of you.
Technology has many benefits and is a great luxury of modern society. I wouldn’t be able to write this article, nor could you read this, without it. It can be a source of information, job networking, connection with family, or even a relaxing break from stress. But along with the benefits come the downsides. Family time is diminishing; work bleeds over into home life, we are in constant contact with friends, and we expect that everyone should be available at a moment’s notice. These things together scream that technology while good, needs to be monitored.
In 2010 the Kaiser Foundation conducted a survey that found youth, age 8-18, spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes on electronic devices a day, about 53 hours a week. And because they can use multiple media devices at the same time they pack 10 hours and 45 minutes of usage into those hours. A 2014 study done on adults found that the average adults spends 11 hours a day plugged in to their electronic devices. To put this in perspective that is more hours than a full time job.
These statistics have a dramatic effect on how we live our lives, and how we interact with our families. The biggest noticed effect is a decrease in family interaction. One article describe our obsession with technology as a new family ritual that consist of “One family. One room. Four screens. Four realities.” Even when families are spending time with each other it is interrupted by constant distractions.
Both children and parents have become increasingly dependent on technology, and it is causing a divide in families. Many times these devices are used as a problem-avoidance tool. When a conflict arises and family members need to address the issue, instead they are turning to technology to avoid confronting the issues.
It is also limiting members’ ability to connect with each other. For one thing, when children are on electronic devices it takes away from the time family can spend together. You can’t do both at the same time. A growing trend is parents, in attempt to fill this connection, connect with their children on social media rather than face to face. This does not allow true connection and increases the divide even more. Jim Taylor of Psychology Today stated “the ramifications of this distancing are profound. Less connection—the real kind—means that families aren’t able to build relationships as strong as they could be nor are they able to maintain them as well. As a result, children will feel less familiarity, comfort, trust, security, and, most importantly, love from their parents.”
So what can be done? In our day it is impossible to disconnect one hundred percent from technology; that is why monitoring electronic usage is so important. Families should have household media rules that are enforced. Each family is different and rules should be set for your specific situation, but put down the phone. Have a specific time set aside each day to actually connect as a family with no electronic devices.
Meal times are a great time for this. Make an active effort during this time to learn about each other’s day.
Computers and tablets can be used in a shared room where others are present. This helps media not pull members into a chamber of isolation, and helps parents monitor electronic usage. And parents, be a good example of the electronic usage you want your children to follow, take the initiative to put the phone aside and really connect.
Media use can be a great way to connect with your family and a facilitator of conversation. Families should talk about the messages portrayed online and what their time on media was used for. Parents can talk to their children about the dangers online and ways to avoid them. If this habit of communicating is established when children are young, they will feel comfortable talking about questionable situations they encounter online.
My last semester at college I made it a point to put down whatever I was doing when each of my roommates came home and ask how their day had been. In other words I wanted to actually be where I was. I wanted to be aware of what my roommates had going on in their lives. I was usually doing something productive when they came home, but it didn’t hurt my grade at all to put my homework aside for a few minutes and try to really connect. So as technology keeps demanding our time, be intentional about your media usage, be where you are and be part of the life happening around you right now.