People often ask us: What does a healthy balance of using technology to improve my life look like and how can I reduce the negative impacts of too much screen time?

I went on a week-long trip to Hawaii with my four kids and husband. We had an amazing, nearly tech-free time. Here’s how we used technology. I downloaded a guided tour onto my smartphone and we plugged that into our car stereo and listened. I took 15 pictures with my phone. I took about 400 using my Canon. I didn’t want my phone to distract me while enjoying a moment. We didn’t google anything except a few restaurants one night so we could get phone numbers to make a reservation. I used a guidebook for recommendations. Why? Well, far less information to sift through in that guidebook. A choice of 12 restaurants was more than enough. And the kids loved looking at the maps and reading about the different places we could or did visit. We also got as much information as we needed through that self-guided tour. My kids named the narrator "Bub." We thought about googling a few things for more information but asked a ranger instead. We miss "Bub" now that we're home. They asked me if he had a tour through Concord. 

It was wonderful to put the devices down and take in the scenery. My husband and I probably experienced more stress and aggravation at dinner while trying to keep the kids engaged because we don’t use devices to distract our kids. But they’re learning necessary lessons in patience, appropriate behavior and manners. And more and more often, the restaurant staff notices and rewards them with cherries, extra whipped cream, plastic swords…. It’s hard but no one said parenting was easy.

Technology is an amazing tool that we should use to improve our lives and our knowledge base. Through technology, we now have access to information we could never access before. The challenge is that we have access to too much information. We all need to make sure we are controlling technology and that technology is not controlling us. Less is more. I read up on some ways to reduce smartphone use and tried them. Here they are: 

-Don’t sleep with your smartphone. It should NEVER be the last thing we use before bed and the first thing we pick up in the morning. Doing so raises cortisol levels. Many experts suggest leaving smartphones in the kitchen and connecting with the person we share our beds with. I admit, I am not a good role model in this regard. I need to spend the $10 to buy myself an alarm clock. But my phone is programmed to automatically go to "Do Not Disturb" mode from 10-7 and I turn my smartphone to airplane mode before I go to sleep. In fact, I've been trying to utilize airplay mode more often - at the movies, at dinner, anytime I have my phone and don't need to be interrupted or want the extra radiation.

-People come first. Far too often, smartphones are taking precedence over real human beings, especially kids. What message is that sending? These people deserve our full attention 100% of the time, especially in the car and during dinner. I have found that the best time to get information out of my kids is in the car, so I try really hard to put the phones away and focus on those conversations. I utilize the "Do Not Disturb while Driving" setting. I was at a talk a few years back and one of the experts encouraged us to set a good example by not using our smartphones in the car, particularly as our kids get older. I've been trying really hard to not bring my phone into a restaurant. It makes me sad when I'm out to dinner and see a table of people all staring at screens. I often wonder, what's the point?! Enjoy the company, the meal, the service….isn’t that why we pay to eat out?! 

-Turn off all notifications and remove social media and other time-suck apps from your home screen. Recently I removed some social media apps from my phone, moved others to a folder on the second screen and committed to reducing the time I spend on these apps. It's amazing what I can now accomplish in a day when I don't spend time scrolling through my social media feeds. It has also helped with my "late-onset ADD," which I swear is a result of toggling between screens. I do feel like I can connect more deeply with family and friends when I'm able to give them my full attention.

-Only read news from reliable sources. With all the news coming out regarding Facebook and the elections, I've made a decision not to get my news from facebook, twitter or any other social media platforms. I'm also very careful that the sites I am getting information from are reliable and well-known. I've definitely been tricked into reading fake news, non-sense "coverage" and pointless articles, you know, the ones that require you to keep clicking...and clicking...and clicking.   

-Give your eyes the benefit of the doubt. I've seriously stepped away from the need to record every moment on social media or with photos. I've noticed that I really can see more through my own eyes than through a screen. I encourage my kids to look out the window - "see what you can see." I'll snap a few photos, then put my phone away. As a family, we can experience more when we use ALL our sense. Our memories don’t need a filter. 

-Delay social media and unrestricted internet access until at least 8th grade. Now that we've committed to delaying and have talked about it, it really doesn't seem like a big deal. We still talk about appropriate technology use, persuasive design and why not using a smartphone teaches us more skills than we could learn using one. It's not easy but I'm trying to teach my children the skills they need to be responsible, resilient, empathetic human beings before I will even think about handing them a smartphone. I want to give my children the gift of a childhood that is free of distraction. A heads-up, hands-free childhood. 

Taking a break from technology and limiting usage it not easy, even for a grown woman who is reading the research every day. But I have found that once I cut that cord, that invisible tether that tied me to my phone, it did get easier. I still use my smartphone…a lot. But I try to be deliberate about it. I leave my phone in my bag or the car more often and try not to reach for it just because I'm bored or uncomfortable. I try to consciously give myself breaks so I can really connect with the world around me. Doing so seems worthwhile. 

What do you do to stay in control of technology? How's it going? Tell us below:


Adrienne Principe