Mindfulness: How To Unplug In A Tech Crazy World
"Let me take your picture!"
Our five year-old paused at the request of his eight year-old sister, video camera in hand, and smiled. They had both been busy taking their own pictures of the historic town square they were in. It was early in the morning and there wasn't anyone else around, so with free reign to walk around they were taking pictures of whatever they wanted with a couple of old cameras. Both of our children had the tools necessary to create their own documentary, and mom and dad were right there to watch the whole thing.
We are constantly amazed at the speed of technology advances. What has happened in the last 20 years is really remarkable. For us, quite frankly, just keeping up is challenging enough. The speed of innovation is part of the reason our children ended up with the technology to create their own documentaries while on vacation. We had already owned the two older cameras that were obsolete, yet not even ten years old each. Allowing them to use them was an easy decision, since we hadn't picked them up in years. The second part of the reason was due to a decision we had made years earlier, while preparing for another vacation. Somehow, while talking about what we were going to bring with us, we decided that we were going to give ourselves permission to disconnect and instead stay off the grid during our entire vacation. Little did we know how much freedom this was going to bring to us. It changed our perspective on being connected, and taught us some valuable lessons about mindfulness, helping us to stay present in the moment and aware of the impact of technology around us.
Fast forward to our two young documentarians. They are impacted more by technology than we can imagine. In fact, our eight year-old came home from that vacation and created her own video compilation and uploaded it to an app so her teacher and classmates could watch it. Amazing! Our children already are and will continue to be surrounded by technology their entire lives. Our challenge as parents is making sure that we have an intentional perspective for how we help our children learn how to use technology effectively while not becoming controlled by it. By being intentional, we choose to be mindful, aware of the present. Thankful for what is the most important to us.
So how do we choose mindfulness and intentionally use technology to communicate and build relationships without destroying our closest relationships? We have decided as a family that technology cannot get in the way of the personal time that we have together. To do this we've developed a few tools over the years that we both agree to use to keep us in check. These tools help us to make sure that we are not allowing technology to hijack the time that we have with those who are the most important to us at any given moment - each other, and our kids. They help us stay present in the moment.
Who are you inviting into the room?
There's someone behind you! Just kidding. But how often do we let our phones interrupt whatever we were working on before a notification grabbed our attention? Would we let others walk up to us and interrupt us the same way if they were physically in the room?
One of the first tools that we began using in our home was asking each other this question: "Who did you just invite in to the room? To the table? Into the conversation?" Pretty simple, but it can be a very powerful tool. Especially for those of us who like taking care of things right away, responding instantly causes us to choose between who is more important in that moment. Is it the person that I was engaged with in the room I was in, or is it the person that sent me a text or called me at that time? Is the better choice for me to stay focused on the person I am with, or do I have margin and permission to respond to the person that I just invited in to the room with us by looking at the text I just received?
There are, of course, limitations to this tool. Sometimes it is necessary to respond to people who are contacting us and are not physically able to be in the room with us. This question allows us to keep a correct balance of our connection with those who are near and those who are not. When our technology controls us, we demonstrate to our children over and over again that the person on the other end of the line is more important, and the task of responding is the most important thing I need to do right now. In our experience, setting reasonable limits on technology helps us stay focused in the present moment with the ones dearest to us so we can fully enjoy our time together. By the way, this tool only works with a heavy dose of the next tool.
Assuming positive intent.
Take a second. Who loves you most, and is most on your side? It's probably the people that you text or call the most. So, how upset do you get when they don't return your call or text immediately? We have decided that we will allow each other the space to not be tethered to our phones. How? By assuming that my spouse hasn't fallen out of love with me in the last hour and that they will get back to me as soon as the task of responding to me outweighs the time that they are spending with the people they are with. We trust each other, and expect that we will focus our time on each other when we are together in person.
The ability to assume positive intent is a skill that needs to be developed in all of our lives, simply because it is really easy to wonder what someone wants from us, especially someone who hasn't spoken to us in a while. In our relationship, we both try to set aside time during our day to check in on our phones and see who is contacting us. This means that sometimes we miss a last minute invitation to something, or we miss out on the opportunity to have someone pick us up something at a store while they are out.
What we gain from the tradeoff, though, is the ability to create positive habits that benefit us and are demonstrating healthy behavior to our children.
Habits can be tricky to manage. If we want to get in to the habit of not having to drop everything when we hear a notification from our phone, then we have to act similarly every time it happens until the habit is developed. Assuming positive intent will give your spouse and children the space to develop healthy habits with technology and not be controlled by it.
Family Day - unplugged.
Finally, sometimes we just need to take a break. In spite of best intentions there are times that we get out of balance. One of the tools that we use to make sure that we hit the reset button is to schedule technology-free family days. For us, that usually happens on a Saturday that we are able to take some time and turn off all technology and spend time engaging in some activities that we all enjoy.
As we mentioned before, we've also taken vacations during which we have limited our use of technology. We'll use our phones turned to “airplane” mode so that we can take pictures. We've also brought older equipment so that the kids can take their own pictures and create their own documentaries. Their pictures are amazing and tell the story of an imperfect family, but one that worked to find as many opportunities to personally engage with those most important to them. We have found that by unplugging, we enjoy each other in the moment even more. We demonstrate importance through sacrifice. As much as we are trying to figure this out as parents, our children are going to continue watching our example and begin making their own decisions regarding how much technology impacts their lives.
Even though we would like to think that technology is a new challenge that we as parents in the 21st century have to deal with, it really isn't. I remember growing up knowing that, if the phone rang at dinner time, it was not going to get answered. We have the examples of generations that have gone before us, and somehow they made the adjustments that they needed to continue intentionally spending time with the people that were in the room with them. This is the example that we can follow and pass on to our children. Giving undivided attention to the people that are closest to us will provide us with the foundation to face other challenges that come our way. Mindfulness in the present moment helps create an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness which will be transferred to our children, and their children, for generations to come, no matter how technology continues to advance.
If the past twenty years are any kind of indication of how much technology is going to continue impacting our lives in the next twenty years, we know that there are a lot more decisions that we are going to have to make. Our kids do not have their own phones yet and we have decided to delay that as long as possible. This is not popular in our home, but there is just so much that they have yet to learn about appropriately using technology to connect with others without allowing these tools to control them. The decisions that we make as parents now will help to set them up for success when they finally do own their own devices. So we smile when they ask to take our picture with their old camera, hoping and praying that one day their habits allow them to focus their time and attention on the people that matter most in the moment. Choosing mindfulness. Being present. With a heart of gratitude and thankfulness.