Over the years through Technology for Mindfulness and as a teacher, martial artist, and technology developer, we’ve helped countless people learn how to become aware of, confront, and ultimately win their invisible wars with technology. We’ve worked with people from all walks of life. And from professionals to college students, the one group that I’ve found having the most difficulty with technology is parents.
Parents are in a particularly tricky position when it comes to dealing with tech. They have all the individual struggles as adults in a technology-driven world. Constant distractions at work and home, the incessant feeling of needing to be “on” at all times, creating an ever increasing dependence on their smartphones to manage their lives. And at the very moment they are dealing with their own obstacles with managing tech, they look up from their phone and see their children mindlessly scrolling social media or glued to their tablet watching who knows what on YouTube. Parents feel doubly responsible - like they’re fighting their war on multiple fronts.
On one hand, parents tell me they are really concerned. They are wondering what the effects of so much screen-time will have over time, they are concerned about their children’s social skills (and possibly the lack thereof), and they are fearful about the unknown dangers lurking online. On the other hand, they can’t imagine life without technology, and to be honest, they don’t necessarily want to. Besides, in truth, it plays a major role in their own lives, and it is increasingly embedded into their children’s world as well. Teachers are using Google Classroom for assignments, their schoolwork is all done on tablets, the internet is a key research tool, email is used for communication, all their friends are online, and social media is often their only social interaction.
Parents get that technology is here to stay and they’re ultimately okay with that. The problem, however, is not knowing how to use tech in a way that is healthy rather than destructive, disruptive, or toxic. Specifically they’re asking how do they allow their kids to enjoy technology without letting it consume them? How to encourage healthy behaviors? How to instill boundaries?
At the end of the day, what I hear from parents is the same thing all parents have wanted for ages. To raise healthy, well-adjusted kids that will grow into healthy, successful adults. In order to do that in our modern world, it means understanding how to take control of technology, instead of letting it be in control of them.
The questions sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised to know how many parents simply don’t know where to start. The idea of balance sounds great, but how to get there seems impossible. They see the opposite ends of the spectrum: take their phones and tablets! Cut off the wifi! Or let them use tech like every other child, cross their fingers, and hope for the best.
What I teach is the how. And what I’ve learned through my own personal experiences and training as a martial artist, is that it’s not about removing technology or even managing your children’s screens. You see, I have come to agree that tech has a use and place in our world. But, if we’re not aware of how we’re using it, why we’re interacting with it they way we are, it controls us. So again, the answer isn’t limiting screen time - it’s managing HOW and WHY it’s used.
That’s where mindfulness comes into play. While it may seem like an unrelated concept, at its core, mindfulness is simply about becoming aware of your behaviors, thoughts, and habits in the moment and without judgment. As you become more aware of yourself, you can start to make wider choices about how to act. Or, as I learned in my martial arts training, you can train yourself to do something different. And you can pass on that wisdom to your children, whether by example through your actions or through explanation or both. Here’s an example between you and me:
Take a moment and think about how you’ve witnessed your children use and interact with technology. Try to remove judgment and simply recall your observations. Chances are you’ll see a lot of their behavior is reactive. Your child gets a YouTube notification, suddenly they’re lost on their phone for hours. They get an alert from Instagram and they abruptly stop mid-conversation with you to text their friends. That familiar ping has become almost like a remote control, directing your child’s behavior with every notification.
As you look back, you can agree that eventually their behavior moves from reactive to habitual. Suddenly, it’s not just about responding to notifications, but it has evolved into a (subconscious) attachment to their phones. The phone comes to the dinner table, to the bathroom, to the family meeting, to the car, to the grocery store. You notice them absent-mindedly picking up and mindlessly scrolling when they’re bored, have a moment of quiet, or even in the middle of a conversation. Oftentimes, it seems as if they don’t notice or even have a true purpose for picking up and checking their phones.
So what usually happens when you notice this behavior? You move into a reactive state yourself. When you hear the notification, you tell them not to pick up their phone. You find yourself saying “put your phone away” or “leave your phone in the house/car” when you see them reaching for it. You’re reacting to their behavior and they in turn start reacting to you. You’re suddenly the villain because you’re not just fighting your child, you’re fighting the habit your child doesn’t even recognize.
If you want to see real change and improvement in your child’s relationship with technology, you must first help them to become aware of their behaviors, just as you are. They need to learn to recognize their own behaviors, and take stock of their own interactions. And this isn’t accomplished when emotions are high and everyone is responding to each other’s actions. It’s done in the calm, in between moments.
In these moments you have the power to help your child develop self-awareness. You have the opportunity, not to restrict and demand, but to open a dialogue, to care and teach the principles so they are able to develop their own ability to act on their own. In doing so, you’re providing more than behavior change, you’re setting the foundation for success throughout their lives.
You can’t force someone into mindfulness, it is a practice they must develop on their own, but as a parent, At its core, mindfulness is power. Those who practice it have a unique advantage above the rest. And while you can’t force someone to become more mindful, as a parent, you can help guide your children to a place where they become consciously aware of how they are using technology which is the first step to change.
If you were to take a moment and think about the way you use and interact with technology and the way you’ve witnessed your children do the same, you’d noticed most of it is reactive. You get a notification for a work email and you immediately pick up your phone. Your child gets a DM from a friend on Instagram, they pick up their phone. Subtly, and oftentimes not so subtly, people become a puppet to their phone’s demands.
If you watch long enough, you’ll eventually notice that behavior moves from a reactive state to a habitual one. The phone comes to the dinner table, to the bathroom, to the family meeting. You absent-mindedly pick up your phone when your bored, have a moment of quiet, are in the middle of a conversation. You end up on an app and don’t know why you’re on it or even how you got there.
So you see, it’s not necessarily that technology is bad. We’ve just let it get to a point where it controls us. And we see that control manifesting the most in our children.
If you want to take control of your technology, you want your kids to have boundaries, and you want to reap the potential benefits that technology can provide, it starts with taking a really hard look at how you’re using it. You’ve got to be real and honest so you train your mind to perform differently. That’s how you begin to set a better example for your children and help them develop their own awareness as well.
Once your child begins to change their behaviors, your family will begin to change for the better.
Parents tell me that they feel like they have their children back, that they see healthier technology use, and most importantly, they see increasing moments of connection where they are focused and more present.
The best part of all is, mindfulness has a trickle effect. As you encourage, guide, and help your children become more mindful of their technology use, ultimately you become more aware of your own. It becomes a goal that you’re not just pursuing for your children, but that you are all working together as a family.
Parents have shared the feeling of joy that comes along with family meals together, pockets of time without screens, and a new-found sense of security that they’ve provided their children with the tools to manage their own screens and behaviors.
When it comes down to it, love it or hate, technology is here to stay. We must co-exist with it and beyond that, use it to our advantage in service of ourselves and our lives. We’re not after a world without technology. We’re determined on creating one where we can use technology mindfully.
My work is centered on helping parents bring that awareness and mindfulness to their families. Through sharing exercises and practical tactics, I aim to give both parents and their children a way to hold their technology use up to the light, examine where they can improve, and make a plan of action to change for the better.
So I’d like to ask for your help. After more than 50 episodes, we’re launching a new product! But we want to make sure we give our listeners best value possible. If you go to askmindful.com, we have a short questionnaire that will help us build the best product possible for you. Plus, when you answer, you’ll get a free guided meditation exercise to help you stay focused and avoid distractions when using your smartphone. Just go to askmindful.com now and thank you in advance! That’s askmindful.com