What would life look like if you spent more time unplugged? Can you imagine a life where your kids or husband didn’t have to compete for your attention with a screen? What about a life where you could tune in to the world around you instead of being bombarded with sensory overload? What would it be like if you could hear the still, small whisperings of the spirit teaching you and guiding you throughout your day? How much more could you get done if you didn’t get caught up in mindlessly scrolling?
As much as I try to avoid it and as much as limit my kids’ have screen time, I’ve gotten caught in its trap. And from what I see out there, I don’t think I’m alone. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Its kind of a weird question, but the thought that keeps coming to mind for me is: Am I the kind of mom I want my kids to be to my grandkids? I can absolutely tell you, that I’m not. I would be really sad to see my grown up kids on their devices as much as I am. I work hard right now to limit their time, but I don’t do nearly as well limiting my own time. And ultimately, they’re probably going to follow my example.
This is what life had turned in to for me: After every task I completed around the house, I felt drawn back to technology. For me, it was specific to social media — Facebook, to be exact. So after every task, before moving on to something else, I would take a break to check things out on Facebook and then spend much more time there than I should or than I was even aware of.
But over the past few months, its been bothering me a lot. I heard a talk where the speaker asked where our focus is. Is Facebook the last thing you do at night or first thing in the morning? Instead, shouldn’t we be dropping to our knees in prayer if our focus is in the right place?
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of good out there in our world of technology. There’s even good — a lot of it — on Facebook. I find uplifting messages and am able to stay up to date with family and friends. I find out about tough things my local friends are struggling with that clues me in to what’s going on in their lives and what I might be able to help them with. I go to my Facebook friends for parenting advice or doctor referrals. And there are things that make me laugh & enjoy life a little more. But if we allow it to take over as the focus of our lives, to consume our thoughts, and be the thing we are turning to whenever we’re bored, between tasks, or should be focusing on other things, then I’d say it’s time to make some changes.
I had already begun making some changes when I listened to LDS General Conference a few weeks ago. One of the messages that stood out strongly to me was a little tiny portion of Elder Russell M. Ballard‘s talk, when he urged us to spend more time unplugged. His message specifically addressed that it would be easier to feel the spirit if we spent more of our time unplugged. But as I tried to live this advice, I found my life improving in so many other ways. When I spent more time unplugged, I was:
- Getting more done every day (like painting the house and other projects that had been hanging over my head)
- Finding the time for scripture study and prayer
- Less annoyed by my kids and happier to answer their questions & help with the little things
- Overall more content and happy
- More creative & energized
Now, if any of those sound good to you and you want to give this a try, here’s some things I’ve done that just might work for you, too. I won’t claim to be perfect; I’m still working on this every single day — and sometimes it’s a real struggle. And I still get caught in the mindless scrolling trap from time to time. But I know it is making a difference in my life and I will continue to work on it.
- Stay unplugged when you first get up. I play music from my phone for my kids as they’re getting ready for school and occasionally check the weather so they know what to wear that day. But other than that, I try to stay off social media, email, and everything else until I’ve sent them out the door to school.
- Stay unplugged when the kids come home from school until they go to bed. They are gone for hours every day. When they come home, they deserve a mom who is focused on the home, not zoned out in front of a screen. This has been a really tough one because they don’t always need me. They’re running outside to play or whatever and I can easily sit and scroll through Facebook. But I’ve found that if I spend this time engaged in the home (working in the kitchen or cleaning up around the house), not only do I get more stuff done but I’m engaging with my kids a whole lot more. They’ll run in and out of the house and stop to chat for a couple minutes or I’ll help with a little project, talk to them about school or listen to them tell me about a project they’re making at the table. And I’m actually, really listening.
- Give yourself a time limit. Even though most of my kids are at school, I still have one at home and a lot to get done each day. So spending all those school hours in front of a screen isn’t the best option either. I give my kids a time limit whenever screens are involved — a couple cartoons on Saturday morning, an hour of video games on Saturday only — and I’m pretty strict. If I expect them to learn good habits, I, as the adult, should be able to do the same. So, I’ll set a timer and say “30 minutes” of Facebook today and then I’m done. Or 15 minutes in the morning and another 15 minutes in the evening — with a timer set. Not only does it help limit my time, but it also helps me be aware of where my time is being spent.
- Spend time out & about unplugged. I’ve spent a lot of time in waiting rooms lately — doctor’s offices, auto repair places, etc. And you probably won’t be surprised to hear that its rare to see someone who isn’t glued to their phone. I have been the same way. But I usually have at least one kid with me and for the last few weeks I’ve been trying to spend that time engaged with them. When I had to take my daughter for her very first blood test a couple of weeks ago, she was able to confide in me how nervous she was because it was just us, with no screens in the way. It can offer you some amazing one-on-one time with your kids.
- Go from task to task without picking up your device. I don’t know why this one is so hard, but I’ve talked to others who have the same tendency. We feel that need to check in with the world every few minutes so we don’t miss something or just because we want a break from life. I don’t know what it is but its tough to fight. But what I’ve found as I’ve forced myself to break the habit of checking out my Facebook feed every time I finish a task is that I am getting so much done. And I mean I’ve become so super productive that sometimes I’m amazed at how much time I really have each day: painting, cleaning, reading
a book5 books to my 3 year old, pulling weeds, reading uplifting messages, decorating the house, finishing up projects, working on my church calling, sitting on the back porch while the kids play or after they’ve gone to bed, going for a walk, reading a book that I want to read, and the list goes on and on.
- Stay focused! Sometimes I need to look something up at a time when I would normally be unplugged. I need to see which books are due back at the library this week or check the teacher’s newsletter to see the details of tomorrow’s fieldtrip, etc. When I have to do those things, I used to get caught. I was online already so I would go on to something else and something else. Now that I’m being more conscious of it, I make myself get on, find what I’m looking for, and then turn it off. This is HUGE and really hard to do!
- Use paper scriptures. I have my scriptures on my phone & iPad so I can have easy access when I’m out and about and need them. But I don’t use them on a regular basis. By using my old fashioned had copy of the scriptures, the kids actually know what I’m doing when I’m reading the scriptures. They can tell when they walk in the room and I’m reading, rather than seeing my face lit up by a screen that they don’t know what is happening on. It really gives your kids a chance to learn by example. I do the same thing with books as often as I can. From time to time, I’ll read an ebook but I try to do most of my reading from paper books so they see the example of me reading, not thinking I’m staring at a game or social media. And what they see and perceive really makes a difference.
So, I say we start a movement! Would you care to join me? Let’s make a conscious choice to spend more time unplugged, doing the things that matter most and connecting with the people who matter more than our devices.