Disconnect to Reconnect

Appeared in Brownsville Herarld and Valley Morning Star on May 26 31, 2013

By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett

I nag at my teenage sons to get off the computer, yet I am the one with the problem. It is a subtle ailment, this addiction to screens, large and small. For me it starts with work, which is never ending and can always be brought home with me, accompanying me everywhere I go through webmail. I sit at my daughter’s gymnastics class or my son’s music lesson, looking at my phone. After working at the computer all day, I come home and see the laptop sitting on the desk or table. Email and texts pop into my phone with a “ding” reminding me of projects and beckoning me to the computer. “I’ll just answer this one email, I tell myself. Finish this one report. Minutes or even hours go by and I am sucked into that other dimension of my life that is the internet.

And then there’s social media. A post comes in on Facebook flashing in the corner of the screen so I click on it and am led into another link to another article, video, photos of a friend’s kids or something that was not on my agenda at all. Meanwhile, dinner needs to be prepared, homework checked, children and husband interacted with. It takes resolve to pull away and engage and I determine to do it. But after kids are in bed, dishes done and lunches packed, I am drawn back to the computer, either to finish something for work, or to relax by connecting with an old friend on the other side of the globe. For some of you it might be hours of T.V. It’s not all bad of course. I’m not against technology or the way it is connecting people and ideas around the world—how could I be when it is so much a part of my life!  I have been touched by ideas, stories, tragedies, heroes and old friends I have accessed online. But I do think this constant plugging in can affect our day to day relationships and our health. I know I need to put some serious thought and planning into how much of my life I want to give over to it.

Studies are showing my concern is valid. There is a clear relationship between the amount of screen time (computer, TV and video games) and metabolic syndrome in adolescents (Mark, et al. 2008) and a recent study showed that even those folks who exercise regularly but sit 6 or more hours a day are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Emmanuel Stamatakis of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College in London, lead author of the study said. “Doing some exercise every day may not compensate for the damage done during very long periods of screen time.”

While I’m not the worst offender, I admit I am constantly distracted and side-tracked from focus by this entire “world” that fits in my hand. Remember when we had to leave the internet at home or in the office and didn’t carry it with us everywhere on our phones. Remember when the only distraction was something you searched for on Google. Now there’s Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube and just when we thought we could not share any more – along came Instagram. It would be interesting to know how many of us have had noticeable shifts in our health and wellness since the prevalence of social media has skyrocketed.  These are issues we must think about and ultimately decide how we want to spend the precious hours and days of our lives. Here are some things that have helped me peel myself away from the computer during non-working hours.

  1. The trampoline —When we get home after work/school/activities, my daughter and I head outside and jump on the trampoline for a few minutes. Sometimes her older brothers even come out and jump. It is a daily routine that forces me away from the computer and provides a great transition home and releases stress. I understand not everyone has a trampoline, so the alternative is to jump rope, play ball, hula hoop, do silly acrobatics on the grass, or go for a bike ride. If you have young kids, find a fun routine that gets you outside with them every day, even just for a short time. This will create good habits and precious memories.
  2. Making a meal together. Give everyone a task. Try to make something special. Or if you are lazy about cooking like I am, at least make the table special. Draw hearts or nice messages on napkins, or go pick flowers and put them in a vase. Focus on the art and joy of nourishing your body with a meal, as opposed to scrolling through Pinterest looking at recipes or reading articles about food.
  3. Walking after dinner. I’ve found this is the most refreshing, important thing I can do for myself and my family—including my dog. The evenings we get it together to go on a family walk create a vibe that is so worth the 15 or 20 minutes it takes. We talk, we move, we look at stars and notice things in our neighborhood. It is real. More real than Instagram!
  4. Removing computers, ipads and laptops from main living areas. I haven’t done this yet, but it is about to happen and I know it will help. That visual cue to jump on the computer is powerful, so if you can, move it out of sight when you aren’t using it. Stow away your ipad and phone. If you have a fixed computer, don’t put it in your main living/eating/gathering area. Take screens out of bedrooms. It’s too easy late at night to get sucked into TV shows or internet searches you never intended and lose precious hours of sleep.

What are the real-life activities that help draw us from the addictive screens? How do we feel after sitting at the computer for hours physically and mentally? How many hours, weeks, months, and years of our lives do we want to spend on the internet versus interacting with tangible family, pets and nature? These are all questions we must answer as we live in this unchartered territory of all-encompassing internet presence in the palm of our hands, because Tu Salud  ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!).