5 Steps to Tech Balance

More frequently now I find myself out to dinner with friends and halfway through our meal we notice that the family of four dining nearby have not yet spoken to each other, not even once. They are each consumed by their devices, an entire meal without face-to-face, human interaction. On the other hand, I also know a couple with a five and a two year old and neither child, intentionally, has ever seen an Ipad, tv, or cell phone in action. These are both extremes, but they’re both out there. The obvious answer this week is that we need to find a balance.

But there are some more complicated steps that go along with that easy answer . . .

Step 1: Acknowledge that balance looks different for each of us

Which of these most looks like your balance?

Photo Credit: Heiko Brinkmann via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Heiko Brinkmann via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sanjayausta via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sanjayausta via Compfight cc

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Step 2: Reflect on your own needs for balance  

Ask yourself the following questions to determine what you need to create balance:

  • When is it necessary for you to be looking at a screen?
  • What are some examples of times when you use screens now and you could do without?
  • After lots of screentime, what refuels you?
  • How will you determine when to power down for the day?
  • How will you determine when to power up for the day?
  • List some times during the week when you unplug/turn off your phone completely?
  • How much time would you estimate you spend/want to spend on a device per day/week?
  • What are some other possible ways you could get information without being on a screen?
  • How long would you like to be away from your phone without feeling the need to check it?
  • Would tech breaks help you to focus?
  • What else do I need to ask myself to determine my own balance?

Step 3: Design your own plan for achieving your balance

Based on your responses to the questions in Step 2 (and any others you may think of), draft a daily/weekly balance plan. Set small goals like no screens during dinner or turn my phone off by 9pm every night. Give yourself permission to use technology when you need it but also remind yourself to put it away when you don’t need it. Really look at your patterns of use and consciously design a plan that will be attainable and meet your needs, remembering it looks different for each of us.

Step 4: Practice and maintain your balance

Like with anything, we will all have our good days and our not so good days. Balance isn’t something that you ever check off as achieved. Give it a go, live out what balance looks like to you and then pause, reflect, adjust, and try again. Just like anything we are trying to improve in our lives, there will need to be changes as the process unfolds. It is a work in progress. Be kind to yourself and be aware of how your balance or imbalance affects your life.

Step 5: Guide your students through a similar process

CommonSense Media’s first tip in 5 Ways to Find a Healthy Balance of Media and Technology is “Be a role model. When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it.” Once you have gone through the process of determining your own balance, making a plan to achieve it, and struggled through actually living it out, you are better equipped to be a role model for students and dialogue with them about the importance of taking such action.

These steps are not necessarily sequential. You can have solid answers on what you need and don’t need in step two and then find yourself having to recalculate those answers when you attempt step four. Or if you’re like me, you can return to step one where I have to remind myself at dinner that balance looks different for everyone.

No matter where we each are on this continuum of seeking balance, I hope we can all agree that we want technology to enhance our lives, no replace them.

6 Replies to “5 Steps to Tech Balance”

  1. I love the notion of individualised balance and also think this is something that needs to be reviewed frequently. The need for screen time changes over time too and so reflecting on the current ‘balance plan’ and adapting would be really useful for us and our students. What I like about your questions is that they don’t assume, as we hear sometimes, that students (and adults) are using tech as time-wasters. You start with ‘when do you need a screen?’ and I think that need is the biggest determinant, as is helping students to understand that sometimes technology isn’t the best way to do something. Part of empowering students is giving them the tools to make the right decision. I think part of social skills development now needs to include when text/email/what’sapp is ok and when face-to-face is more appropriate. So your idea of indivdual balance is also used to help children see individual situations and decide appropriate action, techy or non-techy.
    The family not talking is pretty standard these days isn’t it? I once talked about it with my students and they said ‘we’re talking on sms with people we really want to talk to’. Says it all really!

  2. I love the practical steps you describe here! You are so right that balance looks different for everyone, but we can all work through this framework you’ve set out to find the right relationship for each of us – and then share with our students. Fantastic!

  3. Some measures I’ve taken personally is to put away my personal iPad. I love reading in bed and it’s so much easier to take the iPad instead of a novel. Most of what I read on the iPad is the same news articles on the same current topics and it adds up to a lot of wasted time. I’ve also started to watch a single news podcast a day for my “newspaper” fix. (If I start reading, I start clicking and it’s hard to stop!)

    I think we all know where our time wasters are and it’s a question of taking that first step to address it.

    Thanks for the constructive ideas to help with the process.

  4. I love how your idea of balance doesn’t just revolve around too much technology, but also around the fact that some people aren’t using enough technology! Both are missing out in their own ways.

    Need for balance…
    My students recently did a project around the issue of structured vs non-structured play. They went and observed a JK and SK classroom and asked the students questions, such as, which would you rather play with, an ipad or….? To their surprise (and mine) most students chose a different means of play besides the ipad. What does this mean? I think it shows that although kids these days use technology more than we did growing up, they still love to play and be kids. As adults though, it is our responsibility to promote that balance. As in this commercial, we need to ensure screen time is not taking away from our children and students play time, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lk-AdtfkpTc&list=PLn9ck0OZhxkYHwtk7YH_Nf5YiQIEqsYjr, AND, as in this article, we need to ensure we model what balance really looks like, https://fusion.net/story/136178/how-to-take-a-vacation-when-youre-addicted-to-technology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=/feed/

    Need for technology…
    On other side of the argument, we cannot ignore and hide from the future and all of the doors it is going to open in ways we have not seen – https://www.fastcompany.com/3046299/the-new-rules-of-work/this-is-the-future-of-college

    Balance really does look different for everyone. The key is to figure out which side of the spectrum you are on:)

  5. Hi Becca,
    I loved your post and the steps to find balance. One of the things I think/talk/reflect about as we move from one school to the another is the balance I have been able to achieve. I feel like I have different parts of me that each need attention and I look at the balance in my life in direct relation to how effectively and efficiently these different parts are operating.
    WORK me- How is my job going? How well do I think I am doing as a teacher? Am I being challenged within my job as a life long learner?
    MOM me- Am I being a good mother? Am I a good role model for my daughters? Am i giving them the time they need from me? Am I fostering independence in them and not enabling them?
    WIFE me- Am I dedicating enough time to nurture my relationship with my wonderful husband? Do I remember to SHOW, not just TELL him that I love him?
    ME Me- Am I taking care of myself? Am I making time to exercise, eat healthy and get enough sleep? Am I making time to relax, enjoy and be in the moment?
    Writing this all down, really makes me think about how important it all is and how it is like those rock sculptures in your post. A balancing act. Some of those structures may fall- usually with no permanent damage, but they can be built again, with minimal effort. The rebuilding is actually quite simple, but someone actually has to THINK about re-building them and DO IT!
    The balance of technology that you talk about in your post can play a huge part in the balance of all my ME parts. Technology is so useful and wonderful and exhausting and fun and …. but it can become all consuming. I love the questions you asked about refueling yourself and when can you really do WITHOUT the screens.

    We talk about this in our family and have actually set up parameters for screen time and double screening (more than one device being used at a time) (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=double+screening) We discussed how much TV is too much TV? How much screen time do you really NEED to do on the weekend? Is watching cartoons on a weekend morning a way to refuel? How much is too much? How many times do I NEED to check my email for work/personal? Can some of those messages wait?

    In this article, (https://www.worktolive.info/blog/topic/leisure-and-stress) Joe Robinson talks about how how a fatigued brain looks asleep. And in another article of Joe’s (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/237446)
    Allison Gabriel states that “There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources.” If we choose to engage our brains in technology 24/7, what are we missing out on? I love how your post reminds us that balance needs to be achieved!

  6. Thanks for your thoughts and comments on balance. One of the things that you said struck a chord with me: “Balance isn’t something that you ever check off as achieved.” I agree completely. I was thinking about this a while ago, how I had been searching for balance for my entire adult life and hadn’t seemed to find it yet.

    Then I was thinking about how actual, physical balance is actually fairly similar. To see this firsthand, just try to stand up while balancing only on your heels. Without moving your feet. So far, I’ve never met someone who could do this. In order to balance while standing, we rely on shifting our weight between our heels and the balls of our feet. We never actually find our ‘balanced point’; we only get close to it as we continuously adjust.

    Ironically, COETAIL has made it harder for me to find balance in my life. I knew the time commitment going into it, and knew that something would have to drop from my schedule this year. Unfortunately, more often than not I’ve had to cut back on being physically active, which last year was a big part of what kept me sane. Trying to work with computers all day, and then do an online course at night, doesn’t do good things to balance.

    On the other hand, it’s made me appreciate even more the ability to unplug. It doesn’t happen too often, but opportunities to go out on evenings or on the weekend without my phone, without worrying about emails or tech projects, has become hugely important to me. And then the question becomes, as you suggest, how to we take some of these insights of living with tech and help students find their own tools to find balance?

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