The current internet age has made us manic information addicts—with our children being the most
susceptible—by incessantly bombarding us with gossip and news which takes advantage of the dopamine that’s inherent in us.
On one extreme we have the neo-luddites who advocate for the abandonment of the newest technology; on the other extreme we have the quantified self-enthusiasts who integrate devices in all aspects of their lives with the goal of optimising their existence. We need to find a way of helping our children minimise the downsides while obtaining the upsides that this technology has to offer. Cal Newport recommends digital minimalism.
What is digital minimalism?
Digital minimalism is a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things your values and then happily miss out on everything else.
Helping your child adopt digital minimalism.
Firstly, your teenager must do a thirty-day digital declutter, during which he takes a break from the optional technology, applications and websites. The optional is that whose temporary removal doesn’t significantly disrupt the daily operations of their school or personal life. During that time you should help them set values. You can occupy them with board games too. After the thirty days, do not just let them reinstall all the applications.
They should do so while prioritising applications that support the values you helped them set.
On the social media applications they retain after the thirty-day digital declutter, help them unfollow accounts that do not align with the values you helped their set. This leaves them with only the essential connections they need; this cuts down their feed and shortens their scroll time. They will thereafter feel the need to set aside the phone & engage in physically engaging activities like playing sports.
You can advise your teenager to go an extra mile and do away with social media applications on their device so that they have to use the websites.
Accessing the website is harder than accessing the application; this acts as a disincentive. The best way to maintain a great diet is by not having unhealthy food lying around the house and the same applies to online internet usage. Creating this disincentive makes accessing social media hectic & makes activities like learning how to play the guitar admirable prospects.
On your teenager’s computer, block gaming websites & video streaming services.
You can do this by using programmes like Cold Turkey and Freedom. This sets up their environment in a way that disallows unwanted behaviour. The secret to changing one’s habits is that one’s environment has a larger effect than one’s willpower does. Give them one hour of break time per day. Blocking these gaming websites will prompt them to instead try playing games like scrabble—which engages their mental faculties broadly—with friends.
Android phones have an application called Google’s digital wellbeing that allows you temporarily block applications on your child’s phone until they are done with tasks.
It also allows you set a bedtime at which your child’s phone becomes totally unusable. These phone applications that restrict some distracting applications alter their environment which in turn influences their habits; as an upside, their sleep schedule will become healthier.
Turn off the notifications of your child’s optional applications and websites.
Notifications can be distracting when unregulated. They break the total focus that is necessary for them to concentrate when studying or to fully enjoy their friend’s company. While studying or conversing, reorienting themselves into a state of flow when distracted by incessant notifications is nearly impossible.
Schedule your child’s diversions just like you schedule your ‘cheat meals’ in a diet.
As I noted earlier, we are not going the neo-luddite route of cutting out all technology; we are rather aiming at using technology in an intentional way. Your child’s social media should be scheduled so as to maximise its purpose. It should not be something he compulsively checks every 50 seconds. This will enable them to spend the rest of their time taking part in co-curricular activities like playing basketball that are necessary for building teamwork skills.
Encourage your child to seek out nutritious forms of information as opposed to scrolling through social media.
By that I mean, introduce them to long-form nuanced content like, podcasts and great books that exercise their attention span. You can also help them start a podcast of their own. This helps your children build a good reading culture and an impeccable attention span.
Encourage your child to leave their phone at home when going out to spend time with friends.
This keeps them present, engaged & mitigates their fear of missing out on things that are happening elsewhere. It helps them focus on enjoying time with their friends rather than mindlessly scrolling through their phones.
Set a no-phone rule at the dining table during family dinners.
This helps the children bond with their family rather than scrolling through their phones. The bonding & jokes shared at family meals are essential in creating a sense of community for the children.
Enroll your child in activities that do not involve getting online.
He could try soccer or swimming, book clubs and helping the disadvantaged children learn how to read & write. Contemporary life instantly gratifies & satiates, but neither enchants nor inspires. Most of the blame can be put on the quotidian technologies & platforms we use to communicate. Ensuring that your child sets these technologies aside for some hours daily and takes part in more physically engaging hobbies benefits society & makes their technology breaks more meaningful.
Accompany your child through digital minimalism.
Do it with them. This will help them have an accountability partner which is tantamount to having a gym partner. It will make it easier, more exhilarating, and interesting.