5 Healthy Practices for Technology Overload

The age of technology is here to stay. None of us are willing to live without our phones for more than a few hours, and the people who are brave enough to do a "detox" for longer have been known to cry as part of the process.

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Yes, you could describe our attachment to technology as an addiction, but the reality is that we need our computers and phones in the same way we need to read the newspaper or pay our taxes. Technology has become part of our lives whether we like it or not, and we have become dependent on it in ways we never imagined.

I read a post recently from a colleague asking about a program or camp for teens addicted to technology. Another person responded to that post with lengthy paragraphs describing how addiction to technology has become a chronic problem for kids, and she expressed a need to understand how to deal with the same issue. I couldn’t help but think how ironic it is that the very people buying the technology for these children are the ones wondering how to manage the overuse. We are all guilty of being on our phones and computers too much. The only difference between adults and youth is that older people have a better ability to multitask, which masks the effects of the overuse they’re engaging in.

Clearly we are all at a loss for how to manage the use of phones and computers, and it’s a struggle for which neither parents nor professionals have a real solution. However, I had to wonder whether the word “addiction” is applicable here, or if we are simply lacking the ability to balance technology with a dose of healthy practices to manage the problem.

A research study reported by NPR stated that on average, children spend more than four hours on a typical school day texting, watching television, and playing video games. Research also suggests that screen time can have lots of negative effects on kids, ranging from childhood obesity and irregular sleep patterns to social and/or behavioral issues. Adults are not invulnerable either, because they are now at risk for being diagnosed with Internet Use Disorder (IUD). Much more research needs to be done, but some studies have found that Internet use can affect the balance of brain chemistry. One such study found that people with IUD have demonstrable changes in their brains–both in the connections between cells and in the brain areas that control attention, executive control, and processing of emotions.

The greatest issue being raised about the overuse of technology relates to the very basic construct of emotional connection. One study that looked at sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television, or other digital screen found that these kids were substantially better at reading human emotions. Clearly we need to figure out a protocol for how to manage our use of technology. But this can’t require drastic and unrealistic changes in daily life, because we need our devices to function. At the end of the day, the most successful approach will focus on changing behavior and adding in healthy habits to counteract the negative impact that technology has on all of our lives.

Here are five easy practices that will immediately change the way you use your technology on a regular basis:

Go Tech Free

Eliminating technology at home is a worthy goal but not always realistic when there are deals to close and homework to be done. But it is possible to carve out a tech-free space in your house where all forms of technology are unwelcome. It could be the dinner table, the kitchen, or the bedroom. Not unlike taking off your shoes before entering the house, this tech-free space would be sacred and unfettered with any form of technology.

Turn It Off

It may sound simple, but powering off your phone or computer is a great way to balance use. Shutting something down signifies being finished in a concrete way. It’s a lot easier to grab a phone and check it when it’s on; the time it takes for a piece of technology to power up makes it less likely that you’ll mindlessly use it. Unplugging from technology is essential for plugging into something more valuable in the real world.

Leave It At Home

If you’re heading out to dinner, a movie, or even the market, try leaving your phone at home. Being without a phone can cause anxiety, but most of us have survived a cell-phone-free period at some point. You’ll feel a sense of liberation and freedom by taking this kind of break, and you’ll realize how present you are in the moment. This will also challenge your dependency on technology by forcing you to be more resourceful instead of turning to Google for the answer to all of your questions.

Have Technology Agreements

Nagging and sporadically telling your kids or partner to get off their phones is ineffective; agreements about the use of phones and computers can eliminate the need for nagging or reminding. In these agreements, each person is well aware of what is expected and takes personal responsibility for what they are committing to. Making the appropriate use of technology a family value will lay the foundation for long-term healthy habits.

Eliminate Types Of Use

Setting limits on what technology can be used for will naturally reduce the need. Eliminating any use of social media after a certain hour–or stopping work emails at a specific time–sets a boundary around the type of use, which in turn limits the amount of use. We all know social media can be a time suck, so limiting its use (and reconnecting with habits like letter-writing and picking up the phone to call a friend) can open up a whole new way of relating.