In today's digitalised world, it is essential to keep a good digital hygiene. Give your brain a necessary break and make sure to follow these few important guidelines!
For today's article I spoke to Gabriela Rapp, a cyber security expert and the author of "Please Do Something" - a book about digital health and cyber security based of her research including conversations with 40,000 children in the Grand Duchy. The book is originally written in German and is also available in English and French. Although her book is focused on children, it is a great set of guidelines for digital users of any age. If you (or your child) struggle with addiction to digital activities, you can email her directly on email@example.com for more information.
First of all, it's very important to make sure digital tools work for you - not against you. DON'T let your screen time exceed 2 hours. I know that for many this seems unimaginable; some of us hit 6 to 8 hours of daily screen time. It is important you watch your screen time and not let your phone to distract you throughout the day.
Furthermore, DO consider your relationship with your screen as any other addiction you have to face to stay healthy. Looking at the screen for more than 2 hours a day (outside of our work that already often forces us to spend several hours a day staring at the screen) fries our brains to an extent not many understand. An excessive screen time can lead to reduced attention, sleep deprivation, moodiness, depression and suicidal thoughts.
DON'T blame yourself if you can't reach the desired screen time (or if you can't even get close to it). Just like in any addiction, the key is forgiveness. Try to reduce your screen time just a little bit and every week try to reduce it a little bit more. It will feel less aggressive and you won't feel the craving as much.
You can start with smaller things that can also reduce your screen time without necessarily fixating on exactly how much time you spend on your phone. Start with your sleeping patterns, as a good sleeping hygiene is essential to refresh your brain and keep your body healthy. DON'T use your phone for at least an hour before you go to bed. DON'T use your phone throughout the night, even if you can't sleep. As much as at times we feel very drawn to do that, DO remember that it is a death sentence to your sleep. If you don't manage to sleep, get up and try to distract yourself for a little while with calm activities such as drinking tea or reading a book. If you want to know more about good sleeping habits, make sure to read this article.
DON'T be a hypocrite! Many parents talk about their children's issues with digitalisation, especially their phones. What Gabriela found in her research (and what I see almost every day) is that parents have as much of a problem with digital tools as their children. Yet they hyper-focus on their children's habits without asking themselves the important question - where did they learn this? Of course, this does not apply to everybody as digitalisation is heavily popularised without any parental involvement. Nonetheless, it applies to more people than one may think, so DO make sure to check yourself before you wreck yourself (as many parents of angsty teenagers may know, I say this literally).
In order to help your child develop a better relationship to their phone and their computer, try to improve your own habits and give a good example to your kids. Children and adolescents often feel not taken seriously and unheard. DO include them in your attempt to decrease your screen time and DO try to make it fun! You can start with one offline day a week - think of cool activities you can do with your kids to prove them spending time without their phones is possible and can be as fun (if not more).
DON'T be scared to talk about this to other parents, teachers or children. It's important we exchange our experiences and we're not afraid to speak about what we struggle with. We often suffer from imposter syndrome and we feel reluctant to talk about our own experience out of fear of being ridiculed, belittled or singled out. We feel like there's something wrong with us, like we failed. Like it's our fault.
DO recognise the connections. As Rapp writes in her book: "Many factors influence the urge to engage with digital devices, from coloured screens that attract our attention as nectar attracts bees, to the business models of apps and games. Digital companies want to increase user's screen time and encourage addiction to digital content. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the brain does not distinguish virtual experiences from real ones. The brain connects neurons based on the things that we engage with and the things that interest us". It's important for us to understand the factors that play a role in our digital addictions.
Many of us are addicted to our phones, which has a fatal effect on our physical and mental health.
Hence, DO educate yourself! There is a lot of information on how big-tech companies try to hack our brains and make us spend more and more time online. I recommendation a book called "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products" by Nir Eyal. It's a good starting point to find out how these companies manage to capture our attention. Knowing this helps to understand that we need to regulate our current policies and protect ourselves from people who try to make a buck on stealing our time and attention. Knowing this makes us intrinsically motivated to reduce the harm we allow to be inflicted onto us and our children.
DON'T underestimate this! Due to the intangible nature of digital products, many don't understand the severity and dangers that digitalisation presents. They trivialise the discourse about digital health, making it seem like an over-exaggeration. But this cannot be stressed enough and the current research clearly states that it is precisely the use of digital tools that leads to severe mental health problems and disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, schizophrenia and autism. Think about it. Your endless scrolling, the so-called "multi-tasking", endless hours spend watching something or playing a game. The dopamine constantly released in your brain feels good. You want more of it and when you don't get it you get upset. Think about how upset you get about this, let alone your children, who are prone to dopamine-driven activities even more than adults.
DO consider this in a different context - it helps to make sense out of it! Nobody is trying to deny that digitalisation brings a lot of helpful aspects to our everyday life and in many ways can be seen as emancipatory. The point is not to overuse it, which due to the factors stated above is pretty hard. Let's compare this to wine. Wine is nice, wine is good, wine is popular. There are many positive effects to drinking wine. The French say you can even have a glass per day with dinner, which would translate to daily drinking. But what if you have five glasses per day? Or ten? Notice the ratio here, 1 to 5, is the same as the ideal screen time (1-2 hours) compared to the popular screen time (5-10 hours). In this case you would quickly notice you have a drinking problem and you should probably cut down on your drinking not to fall into an addiction. Treat your digital addictions the same way and make sure to keep your digital hygiene as one of your highest priorities. It impacts the rest of your health drastically.