I am from the generation when cell phones evolved from being primitively monochrome, with its most entertaining feature being an ever-elongating snake, to sudden touch screen brilliance, with a sassy voice-activated personal secretary. I have been an avid user at each of these stages, relishing every new invention, novel distraction, and complicated organization tool.
We have evolved at a rate that would frighten Darwin, growing an extra appendage that our thumbs are incessantly tapping on. If I have become so dependent on technology and the instant gratification of notifications and Likes, how addicted must our kids be, who were born into this world likely in the company of 4-inch lit screens?
The answer is clear in my students who walk into our meetings with their phones clutched tightly yet subconsciously, whose hands instantly move to their pockets at the slightest vibrate or beep. Even if they do resist looking at their phones, I lose them to the moment of distraction as they ponder who it could be that just messaged them, sent a Snapchat, Tweeted. Yet, I cannot blame them, because their world – the world that we adults have created – is designed to turn them into consumers of technology.
This is why it is important for us to also teach our kids how to set boundaries with these entertaining distractions. If we are going to give them tools to make their lives better and more efficient, then it is also our responsibility to teach how not to get lost in them. Even as adults, we sometimes spend just as much time on Facebook as we do on our actual work. You can imagine how much time kids waste on these mind-numbing, infinite scrolling sites and apps that separate them from learning useful skills and knowledge.
I want to share the following three tips that have been the most useful in protecting our time against the machines, ones I personally utilize and also teach to my students:
1. Turn off your phone notifications for all non-essential apps.
We become slaves to our devices when every single app gives us a notification for every occurrence, training us to immediately slide it open to investigate what breaking news coupons Ebates is offering today. Do we really need to? No, we can shut off the notifications and regain control of when we want to check them. Otherwise, we become wired to look without thinking, when we are in the midst of reading an email, writing a report, or even having a conversation. It might hurt at first, but you’ll get used to it… and like it.
2. Hide your time-sucking apps.
If you know that you open certain apps 20 times a day and spend at 10 minutes each time you open them, then hide those apps in the way back pages and recesses of your phone, inside folders of folders of folders, so that you give yourself time to really think about whether you want to open them. Will it really benefit you to open them right now? The time to get to the app alone will probably stop you because you will think better of it. Congratulations, you just earned 3 extra hours in your day!
3. Physically place your devices in another room.
Take some time apart. If you have an important test or essay coming up, put your phone in a different room or ask someone to keep it while you focus on your task. What I learned from serving jury duty was that setting your phone on vibrate does not make it inaudible; likewise, placing it face down on the table does not stop us from reaching for it. Sometimes, we need a physical barrier and that is okay. I always love telling my students how my college roommate would ask me to hide her laptop while she studied, and to change her Facebook password when she was applying for medical school. And now, I can claim credit for helping to add a dedicated doctor to the world.
In each of these instances that we are taking something that seems like a necessity away, replenish it with something better. I encourage my students to replace the Facebook app on their phone’s home page with CNN or Ted, to substitute the phone on their table with a book I recommend. Those 3 hours you freed up? Learning programming online!
Most kids do not realize that they are being commanded by their handheld devices because that is how good the tech industry is, and we should be proud of the industry’s progress. However, with great technology comes great responsibility, and we need to make sure our kids learn the latter because the prior is here to stay.