Mom's Digital Diet

This summer, before embarking on a weeklong vacation to Maine, I gave my children an order: "If you see me doingon my iPhone besides taking pictures, take it away from me."
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This summer, before embarking on a weeklong vacation to Maine, I gave my children an order: "If you see me doing anything on my iPhone besides taking pictures, take it away from me." My kids were thrilled for a chance to discipline me for a change, but even more exciting, I think, was that for one week they knew they wouldn't be vying with a smartphone for my attention.

The kids dubbed this new regimen "mom's digital diet," and they were serious and dutiful enforcers. They had to swipe the phone out of my hands a few times when they caught me filtering and posting photos of lighthouses and lobster shacks to Instagram. For the most part, though, I stayed on the wagon. Yes, there were moments when I felt existentially lost without the iPhone's Pavlovian ping alerting me to a new message or tweet. But it also felt exhilarating to use my hands for digging tunnels in the sand and turning the pages of a novel instead of just for tapping away on a screen. For the first time in I don't know how long, I was really seeing my kids. And they were relishing being seen.

Like all diets, my digital one wasn't sustainable. Just as we can't survive without food, I can't work or live without my devices. When it came time to reenter my real life, I was determined not to lose the awareness of how screens were interrupting the flow of our family life and virtual beckonings were taking attention away from the real people in front of me. As Anne Lamott said in a recent tweet: "At our tiny park, a dad of 30 w/ his 2 yo old didn't stop texting once. I wanted to swat it out of his hands. This is not a dress rehearsal."

So I set out to find some balance, a way to keep technology close without letting it get in the way of right now. Something is wrong with the picture when I'm texting while my 5-year-old daughter is telling me about a new friend she made at school. Or my 8-year-old son doesn't look up from his DS when I walk through the door from work. Or if we're in the car for only 20 minutes before someone "needs" to borrow my iPhone to play Minecraft or Cake Doodle.

Balance is what Screen Sense is all about. We're not here to scold or preach, but just to use some common sense. We get technology -- we are even grateful for technology -- and believe that our lives are richer, more productive and, yes, much more fun, because of our gadgets.

But we also know those gadgets have an "off" button and that we need to remember to use it. The hows and whens of "on" and "off" are the reason for Screen Sense. It's a resource for parents who want to read the latest studies and articles about how technology affects our families and to hear experts weigh in with the newest research. Mostly it's a place to share with other parents, using our screens to understand their screens, and muddling through together. Welcome.

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