Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Educator, Author

Put the technology down and connect with your life

Last week I was in beautiful Malibu, California at the Pepperdine Lecture Series. I attended a talk by a colleague of mine, Brady Bryce, who talked about how to live in this increasingly connected world. I was struck by both the opportunities and the challenges that connectedness represents. In this article from Hands Free Mama, Rachel Stafford talks about how we can miss a childhood by spending so much time with our mobile devices.

This article really hit home for me, as I’m sure it does for many of us struggling to learn to balance the continual ability to connect with information and people far away, and yet remain present in the moment. Rachel Stafford says, “the distractions of the modern age have taken an undeserved priority over the people who matter in your life.” We’re starting to be like those people on the movie Wall E, riding along in our automated armchairs, staring at the screen in front of us instead of talking to the person next to us. I was with my 7th grade daughter and her friends the other day, and one girl spent the entire time texting other people. She was sitting with two friends, completely ignoring them in order to communicate with people who weren’t there. As my friend Holly Tumpkin says, “Ouch.”

With mother’s day around the corner, I am contemplating what it means to be a mother in this day and age. I have more choices and options than my own mother did thirty years ago when she was raising my siblings and me. But, I also have more distractions. I want to be present with my children, to enjoy the moments of their childhood. It is going so quickly. My oldest daughter will be 13 soon, and it seems like yesterday when she was a toddler, dashing through the house pushing the “walker” and running pell mell into walls and furniture. Her childhood is racing by, and I want to enjoy it with her. I don’t want to look back and regret the things I missed because I was busy checking Facebook or Twitter. When my 8-year-old tells me that I need to pay attention to her and put the iPhone down, I need to start listening. Because the times we have together really matter, they are the moments and minutes of their little lives, their childhood that they’ll look back on one day. And I don’t want them looking back and remembering me with a screen in front of my face. And, I don’t want them growing up and missing out on developing social skills about how to connect with real life people face to face.

Here are some ideas on how to put the technology down and connect with your life:

• Set technology limits: I am not an emergency room doctor or an obstetrician. I’m a professor. There are generally no calls or emails about work that must be responded to immediately. We all need to set limits on how we use our technology. Set cut off times in your day for reading and responding to work related emails and phone calls. You may even need to set certain days aside to be “no email” days. That may sound difficult, but we functioned without email for years and work got done in a timely manner. Give yourself time to just be, rather than always having to do. Unless something urgent is coming up, don’t check email right before going to bed or right after waking up. Give yourself at least 1 hour before bed and after waking to be technology free.
• Make face-to-face time count: When you’re with your friends, children, spouse, etc., put the mobile device away and be with the people in the room. One of my favorite high school teachers used to say, “Be where you are when you’re there.” As a kid, I didn’t really understand what she meant. But in the age of mobile devices, I’m beginning to understand the point. We must take the opportunity to connect with the people in our lives face to face, to enjoy the moments of our lives without distraction.
• Control your technology, don’t let it control you: This is closely related to the first point. Because the device is always with us, the distraction is always available. We think, “I can just check email one more time, I can just send one more message.” Let it go. It will be there tomorrow. We must learn to use technology wisely rather than letting it control the way we function. Be thoughtful; plan your use and your free time from technology.
• Enjoy your life in the moment: One reason I love to jog is because in that moment, there is nothing else I can do. I set aside 30 minutes three times a week to just be alone, doing nothing but running. Our minds, bodies, and spirits need this down time to rest and rejuvenate. During the winter I started jogging on a treadmill and I found myself watching TV and checking my email while running. Guess what happened? I lost the peace of mind that I had been getting from the jog. Give yourself time to just be in the moment, experiencing what you’re doing, whether it’s watching your child play, going for a run, gardening, or what have you. Just be.

One of the great challenges of our new age is learning to balance the benefits and drawbacks of such accessibility. I urge you to examine where you are when it comes to technology use. Take control, and use it to wisely and thoughtfully. This is your time, this your child’s life, spend it well.

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