Written by Dr Meghna Singhal and published on 22 June 2021.
Parenting isn't just seeing what's right in front of you, it is noticing the things that aren't being said. Sounds interesting? Hear more from Tanya Goodin, a digital detox expert
Emails, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, Prime, WhatsApp, and what not! Smartphones have gripped us in every sense. According to some research studies, an average adult picks up his smartphone approximately 52 times a day. A large number of people admit to using their phones in social situations, such as when meeting friends, out dining, or waiting in queues. And a majority reach for their phones the first thing after waking up and it's the last thing they do before going to sleep. What would happen if we give even half this attention to our children?
We have an award-winning digital entrepreneur and digital detox evangelist, Tanya Goodin, to answer this question. Tanya has spent her entire career focused on the interaction between people and technology. In 2014, she launched Time To Log Off, a digital detox movement for individuals and corporates, providing resources, retreats, and research to help the screen-dependent learn to unplug.
In 2017, her book OFF: Your Digital Detox for a Better Life was published and has since been translated into seven languages. Tanya's second book Stop Staring At Screens! was published in 2018.
Over to Tanya to answer some of our pressing concerns about our relationship with screens.
Q. Thanks for agreeing to interact with us! Your book Stop Staring at Screens is a practical digital detox handbook for families. Why do you think families need a digital detox?
A. Family time at home is increasingly not just been curtailed by screen time but being replaced altogether. Parents and adults are both retreating into screens the minute they walk through the door - and we're all forgetting how to connect with each other as a result.
Q. Retreating into screens. Well, is that starting to affect parent-child relationships?
A. How can parents really know what's going on with their children if they have their heads in their smartphones? Parenting isn't just seeing what's right in front of you, it is noticing the things that aren't being said, the very small clues in body language and behavior that there's something wrong. As parents, we need to be fully mindful around our children, in order to fully parent them.
Q. How can parents be mindful in their parenting in this age of 24/7 connectivity?
A. Parents only have to ask their children how they feel about their phone habits to realize that what they do on their smartphones doesn't go unnoticed by their children. Smaller children have even been known to try and take phones out of their parent's hands forcefully. This isn't because they want your device. It's because they want you and your attention.
Q. Is that also why mobile babysitting is a bad idea?
A. I understand the temptation to use a digital babysitter when you're tired after a long day's work, I really do. But that short-term fix of storing up all sorts of problems for the future is a lack of connection with your child. In a few years' time, you will look back with regret at the precious few years when your children still wanted to talk to you and spend time with you. They definitely don't want to do that much when they are teenagers! Don't waste that time, be there fully for them.
Q. For that to happen, teens, themselves need to be kept away from excessive screen time, isn't it? And it isn't just about the duration of use...
A. Hours spent on a screen is a pretty poor measure of something that might be wrong. Its behavior that's the clue. If your child is doing less of the things that used to make them healthy and happy playing with friends, eating healthily, sleeping, or is suddenly more withdrawn and anxious or depressed than is usual, then you should examine what they're doing on their screens.
Q. Getting children, particularly teens to participate in a digital detox is never easy for any parent.
A. The first time you do this as a family, ensure you plan a few activities that everyone really enjoys. Giving up screens and then just sitting there twiddling your thumbs isn't going to work. Plan a trip, an outing, a special game, preparing and eating a favorite meal. Anything to fill that space with something that will make them forget all about FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
Q. Our gadgets are designed to hook us, with their near-constant alerts and notifications. What strategies do you suggest to deal with these temptations?
A. Technology wants our attention. So, to take back control we have to cut down on the tricks it uses to eat up our time. Be ruthless, particularly with notifications. I have absolutely none on my phone myself. Go through each app and work out which ones are really so important that you will allow them to interrupt your time with your family. Disable push notifications for everything else.
Q. What would you recommend to a parent whose young child insists on watching videos during mealtimes? The parent feels that at least the child is eating her veggies, so that's one battle less.
A. You absolutely can't let your child associate eating with screens. Eating mindfully is a really important skill to learn in childhood. It stops us from becoming unhealthy and overweight as we grow. Being distracted by a screen is not helping your child learn to focus on the signals their body is giving them as they eat. Put away those screens right now!
Q. Is banning screens really an answer? How is the responsible use of gadgets more important than no use at all?
A. Banning screens is not the answer. We all (parents and children) have to develop healthier screen habits. For that, we have to learn how to use our screens in a way that's healthy, not discard them altogether. But to start with we may need to put them away for a while, to draw our attention to how unbalanced our lives have become.
Q. How could a family go about establishing tech boundaries?
A. If there are older children at home, draw them up together. Let everyone have their say on what screen habits most annoy them or upset them. Agree on the ground rules and agree to support and encourage each other. When you have younger children, set the rules. Decide what your priorities and values are as a family, then see how screens fit into those. As for deciding to eat more healthily, it's a new habit that will take a while to get established but keep monitoring how you're doing, and you'll soon see the benefits.
Q. ParentCircle is hosting the world's first-ever #GadgetFreeHour campaign to help families connect better. The idea is to rediscover the magic of spending time with your child. What do you think of this initiative?
A. I absolutely love this initiative. It's something that should be adopted in every home around the world. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes and watching how quickly other countries follow suit. I'm sure they will!
About Tanya Goodin