You’ve been hearing about work-life balance for a long time, haven’t you? But what you need to pay even more attention to is what some people are calling Tech-Life Balance.
The challenge for parents today is finding a way to establish healthy boundaries around technology use. In my work as a mental health counsellor for youth and families, almost all clients talked about issues relating to how their family members engage with technology. Parents are searching for solutions, while at the same time, captivated by all the enticing entertainment that modern technology offers.
I get it, this is a tough battle. And a generation of parents is right there with you. Most of us would admit that we need to find a healthier tech-life balance, but it’s so hard to know where to start.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
1. Signs that your family has a technology imbalance
2. How the problem developed
3. Important concepts to help make change
4.Specific strategies to restore tech-life balance at home
Researchers, web and app developers, and mental health professionals are waking up to the reality that excessive technology use has negative health outcomes (this is an amazing article talking about Silicon Valley’s developer’s concerns…ironic isn’t it?). Some people actually become addicted, and many others simply can’t seem to set healthier limits despite negative consequences. Some studies have even linked frequent social media use with higher rates of depression in teens.
And the caution isn’t just coming from health professionals. More than half of teens and as many as 30% of adults feel addicted to their smartphones, touching them an average of 2,600 times a day. Yes you read that right, 2,600 times a day!
Here’s the challenging part: when everyone seems to be overusing technology, how do you know when your habits are problematic? Does it make it okay if everyone else has poor tech-life balance as well?
Here are 5 indicators that technology is causing problems in your home:
5 Signs That Technology is Out of Balance In Your Home
- Tech-first mentality. You wake up in the morning and check your phone. You drink your coffee while reading the news…on your phone. You fire up your computer and send off a few emails. Wander back to your room to get dressed while scrolling through your Facebook feed. Oh, good morning, [child / spouse]. And maybe they are doing the same? You or your family members are starting the day plugged in and disconnected. It’s the first thing on your mind.
- No interest in connection or family time. You’ve noticed that you’re kids aren’t interested in conversation. They don’t want to do things together as a family. They would rather stare at their phones through dinner than have to talk to you (caution: there is a certain degree of teenage disinterest in parents that is totally normal). And you, as the parent, would rather watch Netflix and surf Pinterest than read books or do an activity with your kids.
- Lost sleep & late nights. Family members are staying up late on their devices. Most commonly, people get caught in web-browsing spirals where they just have to read this one more thing. And then hours later, just one more thing. Video games can lead people down this late-night path too.
- Hobbies, school, & work slipping. Loss of interest in face-to face interactions, or non-tech related hobbies. You might notice your kids not wanting to take part in extracurriculars anymore, or to do any activities where they might miss a social media notification. For adults, you may find yourself unproductive at work, sneaking web-surfing, texting, social media browsing, or gaming when your should be working. You may even notice that beyond technology and social media, you aren’t sure about what brings you joy.
- Inability to set boundaries around technology. As a parent, you’ve tried to initiate conversations about finding better tech-life balance. You’ve searched online for helpful strategies. Maybe you’ve even tried to implement rules for your kids around their tech use. But you’ve mainly been unsuccessful and the family has gone back to the old ways of disconnection and being plugged in. You might feel at a loss and hopeless.
You are reading this because you care about your kids, and you know that establishing healthy limits around technology is needed. You are here because you know there might be a problem with how your family engages in technology.
And I have a feeling you are here because you notice disconnection within your family.
We all need a sense of connection, a sense of belonging and mattering. For kids, they achieve this feeling primarily within their families.
When we are plugged in to separate devices, we are not able to give one another the attention needed to create meaningful connection.
But how did we get here? When we all desire connection, why are we left out of balance?
A Society With Poor Tech-Life Balance: How We Got Here
What has happened over the past 10 years that has lead most families toward poor tech-life balance?
- Culture of Technology & Social Media. We clearly live in a technology era, and that isn’t changing anytime soon. Eighty one percent of the population in North America regularly uses the internet, and there are 2.32 billion (yes, billion) smartphone users across the globe. That’s a lot. Tech is here to stay, and has become the norm.
- Tech is actually really awesome. By no means do I think tech is evil. In fact, I love so many technologies and have to take my own advice in order to keep them in check. iPads, smartphones, fun apps, yes please. They are fun, well-made, incredibly engaging, and add a lot to life.
- Some tech is built to be addictive. This is a sad and frustrating truth. Millions of dollars are spent on drawing you back to your device. There are literally conferences in Silicon Valley where developers talk about how to increase habit-forming (read: addiction forming) qualities on their sites or apps. This is wild, and feels unethical. And it plays a major role in how people are engaging with their devices.
- Research hasn’t caught up. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will one day be considered ‘common knowledge’ (kind of like smoking) that tech-life imbalance has serious consequences. There are already research studies that outlines some of the concerns (like increased anxiety & depression, and interpersonal challenges) and some major sites reporting on these but it’s not mainstream yet.
- Parental modeling. No, your child’s tech-life balance isn’t your fault. However, as the parent, you undeniably play a role in how your child engages with technology. I always coach parents to reflect upon their own tech-life balance before expecting their kids to change. I’ve yet to meet someone who feels like they have it all in check, so don’t be hard on yourself. Just consider the entire family rather than singling one person out.
- Lack of ‘tech etiquette.’ This, by all means, is a societal issue but changes start with the individual. Have you noticed how it seems to be the norm for people to sit on the bus, restaurants, in groups, and even walking while staring at their phones? It isn’t even surprising anymore. However, we all know how it feels to be on the receiving end of this, where you try to connect and realize that everyone you turn to is plugged in somewhere else. Parents used to teach their kids about table manners, to use their ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’, and now I think the need has really shifted to tech-etiquette. Family expectations around frequently checking phones, being in public spaces while web-surfing, or cutting off in-person conversations to use a device should all be explored.
It’s safe to say that society in general could be approaching a tech-life balance problem, where it has become the norm to be checked out of in-person experiences and instead, connected to the online world for most of the day.
Relationships are suffering. Family members are feeling disconnected from one another. And parents are frustrated that they can’t seem to make a lasting change.
5 Helpful Concepts To Restore Tech-Life Balance in the Family
Before you start experimenting with strategies in hopes of restoring some kind of tech-life balance in your home, it’s necessary to adopt these attitudes about the tech issue in general. These concepts add some perspective to the battle your up against, and will help you when you choose how to tackle the issue.
- The Family is A Single Unit. Remember the baby years where you had a mobile hanging over the bed? Now think of that mobile as a representation of your family. You couldn’t possibly pull one part without the entire mobile moving, right? The idea is that within the family, all parts are connected. If one person makes a change, everyone will feel it. This also works in reverse: if you want someone else to change, you can start with yourself as they will certainly feel the impact.
- Working Against Joy. It’s so hard to go against something that brings joy in the moment. In the short term, it might seem like limiting video games or phone use will just take away your kids’ entertainment and cause more disruption in the home. And really, that’s probably true. When you make a change (like limiting tech use), you can expect things to feel worse before they get better. People have to adjust, learn new ways to have fun, deal with what they’ve been avoiding, actually interact with one another. It’s hard! Be prepared for a challenge.
- Additive Approach. I love this concept because it takes some pressure off of the “problem.” Rather than worrying so much about tech time, try spending more of your energy on ways to connect your family. So in other words, instead of taking something away from your kids, you actually add something in (like an activity) and eventually they’ll have less time to use tech. If your kids are up for other activities, then the tech issue naturally balances out.
- Kids Will Be Mad. I can almost guarantee you that your kids will be choked if you limit their tech-time. And don’t expect them to thank you anytime soon either. It’s incredibly challenging to implement a plan that you know will bring resistance, but preparing for the struggle is helpful. Remind yourself that your job is to guide them, keep them safe, and put them on a good path for the rest of their lives. It isn’t your job to be their friend or make them happy every day.
- Deeper Issues. There are likely other issues underneath the surface if you or your family members are constantly plugged in or engaging with tech. In a way, we can think of excessive technology use as a bandaid for other concerns, a temporary cover up. People also overuse technology to avoid negative feelings (like anxiety, low self-esteem) or as a way of procrastinating. Get curious about what might be happening on an individual and interpersonal level and see if there are healthier, more balanced ways to address these concerns.
4 Healthy Tech-Life Balance Strategies to Implement Today
Alright, now this is the part that parent’s always ask about. The strategies, the what-do-I-do‘s.
The caution I must address is that there is no one-size approach for complicated things, especially when they relate to families. Think about how many moving parts there are?
There’s the unique family dynamic, with the specific social contexts of each member. There are personality differences, age and developmental differences. So realistically, you have to do some trial and error before you know exactly how to restore balance.
And if you find you’re in deeper than you thought, check out my course (From Tech to Connect) for parents just like you.
But regardless of what makes your family situation unique, here are some universal strategies that we could all use to manage our tech time better:
- Family Charging Station. Easy peasy idea, and eliminates many different tech-related concerns (like teens staying up late to chat or game, online safety issues, web-browsing in bed beside your partner when you could be doing other things). Considering making a designated area where the phones ‘live.’ They don’t go to bedrooms at night, sit on the couch during family movies, or get carried around like a small child. They stay at the charging station (here’s an example).
- Cut-off Time. Try creating an end-time, or a curfew, for technology. This should be a set time, across the family, where devices get shut down and put away. It’s lovely to end the day with a bit of connection, and also some calm low-stimulation time to help wind-down. There are many studies that show how computer light negatively impacts sleep quality, so consider that too.
- Create Tech Contract. Have a discussion with your family members and create clear expectations about technology. You also need to establish consequences for when those expectations are not met, and then (the hard part) follow through with the consequences. Think about technology as a privilege for your children, not a right. They do not need a smartphone with endless data in order to survive. Sure, you might decide they need a phone, but lots of phones aren’t smart…you get me? (Here’s a good example).
- Model Tech-Life Balance. Sorry, I had to add this one to the list. Our kids are watching everything we do, and they are on to us. We couldn’t possibly ask them to change their tech behaviour if we don’t have a handle on it ourselves. Now that said, I firmly believe that parents are entitled to different rules than their kids. But consider modelling healthy tech etiquette and boundaries when the family is sharing space. For example, don’t surf on your phone while your sitting with your child, and avoid bringing phones to the table during family meals.
You’ve read this far because you are a good parent, with eyes wide open about today’s tech issues. You are far from alone with your concerns, but you also know that in this case, “normal” isn’t okay.
Little by little, you can make a big difference in your family by slowly reining in the space that technology takes up in your home.
And with continued awareness and persistence, you’ll be on your way to restoring healthier tech-life balance in your family.