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?
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.