It’s a new day and a new year. I walk out to the living room where we gather each morning and evening to read the Bible and pray together, only to notice all three of my children sitting there with their faces buried in their phones. In no way innocent myself, I look down to notice my own phone in my hand already opened up to my favorite social media outlet. That was when I realized that we have hit a trend where we may all be in the same room, but we are not connecting with each other. Worse than this, we have put viewing our phones and playing on electronics above what matters. The effects of technology are getting the best of us, so as a caring parent I know it’s time for a change!
Another example of this disconnection and distraction occurred when I first began counseling. I walked into the lobby to call my patient, only to note that while she was attempting to get her father’s attention, he only seemed to be focused on his phone. The client, when unsuccessful in gaining her father’s attention, then began climbing and jumping on the furniture in the lobby.
We all spend time on social media and our culture has moved to seeking validation as we report on each minute of the day and our activities in our social media profiles. We feel invalidated when there is no reaction. We download game apps on our phones or turn on video game consoles which absorb our attention. Our children, learning from our examples, do the same. We teach them to place importance on playing video games, watching tv and staring for hours at a screen whether on social media or some app they find entertaining. They begin to seek comfort and validation there. In addition, cyber bullying has become a concern, along with wondering what our children are being exposed to in social media apps and what influences are reaching through to them. Tik tok challenges in this last year alone have raised alarms throughout the city as children, seeking to fit in, attempt to do the challenges, which can be dangerous or endanger others and potentially lead to legal issues.
According to several studies on the brain and reactions within the brain related to video games and social media use, measurable changes occur in the body and brain related to positive and negative experiences. Studies revealed Cortisol—a stress hormone— is released during failure to succeed in a video game, in times of being bullied in social media, or when we feel invalidated in what we shared. Conversely, studies show the release of dopamine in positive experiences such as success in video games and likes and responses in social media. One study pointed out that whole body relaxation became evident with positive and successful outcomes in technology use.
We are social creatures designed to connect with God and each other for survival. We and our children seek that connection to meet our emotional and physical needs. However, when the negative effects of technology take over in the home, disconnection grows. In counseling we can see the results of our fascination and possible addiction to technology in behavioral issues especially in children. We may notice high anxiety as dysregulation—whether that presents as extreme anger issues, increased lying, risk taking behaviors, even physical violence—or in the social withdrawal and depression symptoms as kids begin to feel unimportant and unwanted.
Spiritually we are suffering as well. We place such importance and emphasis and indeed may be addicted to whatever technological pleasures await us. We wake up in the morning to grab our phone and scroll through the text messages, social media and even the news before we take the time to thank God for the new day. It is a gradual process that is only noticed with mindfulness—what we reach for first. We spend time in cyberworld catching up on the latest and then must scramble to get ready for work. After work we are exhausted and depleted of energy and click on the tv to pay attention to some TV show or movie. Then we make dinner and watch more TV or scroll mindlessly through social media apps putting our stamp of approval where we like and seeking the supposed connection social media was supposed to afford while we neglect connection within our own home. But where in the day did we take time to grow our relationship with the Lord? Did we pray or have we gotten out of the habit? Did we read the Bible replete with stories that tell us who God is? Or is this also a habit we have dropped?
Finally, we go to sleep (which has become disturbed because we are thinking about what we saw on Facebook), and we have affected our physiological processes with the continual exposure to screens making our quality of sleep lower and our irritability and stress levels higher. Touitou, Touitou, and Reinberg (2017) explain that technology devices contain LED lights which emit a blue light. According to this sleep hygiene study, the blue light emitted—because it is a shorter wavelength than other light types—affects the receptors in the retina which are connected and related to the circadian rhythm network in the brain. The circadian system is sensitive to light versus dark. In normal conditions, the body, via the photoreceptors in the eyes, signals the release of melatonin—the sleep hormone—approximately two hours prior to bed which then begins signaling the rest of the body to prepare to rest. Blue light exposure from technology disrupts those signals which can trigger continued release of serotonin or the awake hormone. This same study showed that blue light exposure and disruption of the circadian rhythm has a higher effect with children. Again, missing sleep, low quality sleep, and sleep disturbances contribute to behavioral issues and negative emotions such as crankiness or irritability throughout the day.
Recognizing that I am as guilty, I would challenge you, as I have taken the challenge, to disconnect or “fast” from technology, use the time normally reserved for social media, tv and video games and find ways to connect with your family members and with God. Choose to set limits on technology use. Set an alarm time in which the phones and electronics are turned off and put away to help improve sleep. Set time limits for electronic time so that children do not spend all day on them. We recommend making playing on technology a reward for work done. Plan activities with the kids and make a list of activity ideas with your family—make it a game or a bucket list where each week the family outing or activity is picked or voted on. Some ideas for connection activities include hiking or taking a walk, playing board games or card games, visiting a site in your state where you have never been, or creating a garden together. Reducing the amount of time spent on technology will even open the possibility of completing home improvement projects that you have been wanting to do. This also provides the opportunity to not only talk to your children as you work, but it can be a teaching moment for how to use certain tools, how to plan the project you are doing, and persistence and perseverance to complete the work.
Last but not least is the need to foster spiritual growth. Seeking connection with your children is important. We model habits that our children learn. Making reading the Bible together and praying together a habit that you incorporate into your routine is another way you can connect with your family members. Proverbs tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” So when it is all said and done, we hope you can believe as we do that technology is a tool and it should be used wisely. We hope and trust you and your family will stay in control of it and use it wisely, as you seek to build a better future for yourselves. God bless!