The increasing social pressure to stay connected in an always-on world, combined with a FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome is creating a new, real phenomenon: the tech-addicted family. Parents and kids sitting together in the living room or during mealtime browsing the web on their smartphones, children sitting in the back of the car playing games on their tablets, teens participating in social events of any kind glued to their smartphones and headphones... Sounds familiar? A new reality is silently taking over our lives while giving shape to the “Inside Generation”. Less empathetic and isolated individuals that more sooner than later are confronted with a mix of health, relationship, work/school performance and social issues. To better understand how to approach this important challenge parents face today, Nora Kurtin, CEO of Komuns, a community platform that promotes disconnected time to (re)connect families and discover fun things to do with our kids, shared with me some interesting, valuable insights and recommendations on how to embrace technology and the Internet in a constructive, secure, balanced way to strengthen family relationships and promote a better quality of life.
Ernesto Sosa: The more connected the world gets, the more disconnected people become from each other. This reality has already touched everyone worldwide and has created a new parent’s (digital) dilemma. How do you see technology is changing families and what are the main consequences for today’s and future generations if the trend continues?
Nora Kurtin: Technology is a new realm where even adults are still learning how to manage their time and attention. As parents, the challenge we face is unique in that neither us nor our parents were raised in this type of environment. So it’s a new area of discussion when it comes to raising kids. With technology shaping the way, kids are learning to interact with us and with each other, impacting the way society evolves as well.
Studies show that kids in the U.S. spend more than 6 hours a day on digital entertainment, which is causing them harm. The hours spent “connected” are causing them physical, psychological, and behavioral problems that are reflected in their academic performance and their relationships. In order to have a balanced life, children need to move, enjoy free-play with other kids, and interact with nature. We need to help our kids discover the childhood that we used to have.
Technology also provides us an immediate response to almost anything we want or wonder. So kids today are becoming accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it; instant gratification. It then becomes a challenge for them to engage in long-term commitments or goals where they need to work hard because they haven’t practiced it in daily life. Our kids are lacking the emotional tools to cope with the frustration of not getting their desired result or not being entertained immediately. It’s a fact that nowadays, parents don’t allow their children to be “bored.” They jump at every chance to provide them with something to do. They solve their problems immediately without letting them figure it out. Now being “bored” is a crucial step in the awakening of your child’s unique creativity. Letting them discover what they find enjoyment in, on their own, is key. This is why free play is so important to a healthy development.
ES: Despite the obvious benefits technology offers in terms of information access, new ways to interact, communicate, learn and work, among others, family time is still the first foundation that allows our children to learn and build important social skills for the future. Human interaction and strong family connections are essential for healthy human development. How should we redefine the concept of family time?
NK: As you mentioned, technology has brought us wonderful things. It has democratized information and provides the opportunity to impact and engage the entire world with common causes.
Technology has given us a greater role in communication; today we are more connected with others than ever before. This has made us über-dependent on our phones and gadgets. Similarly, our children are becoming used to relying on a device to manage their entertainment and social relations, often causing isolation and lack of practical experiences. Sometimes, when we are right next to our children we can miss valuable opportunities to connect, because we are digitally distracted. Parents should lead by example and disconnect from their devices during family time. It is our job to reconnect with our children. The problem is not about having time; it is about making time. In the rare moments we have with our children, we should try to really connect, listen and develop a bond with them. The only way to do this is through conversation. Different studies from our partner, The Dinner Project from Harvard University, show that sharing at least 5 meals per week with our kids help us create an immediate positive effect on them. By eating with them we’re reducing their chances of unwanted teen pregnancies, alcohol and drug consumption, dropping out of school, and more.
Since life is a journey, parents must define a map to guide our children through the difficulties of adolescence and entering adulthood. Family time is where we educate our children, share our values and help strengthen our children’s self-confidence. If we are able to build unforgettable moments in their childhood, they will grow up to be better adults.
ES: What is the best way to approach the use of technology at home acknowledging the importance and place technology has in our lives, while protecting childhood and family relationships in the Digital Age?
NK: Technology is great, but horrible in excess. It’s important to establish healthy habits. Over-consumption of technology can often be no different than eating a dozen donuts in one sitting. A common issue among parents is that many of us are not digitally savvy and it’s difficult to learn how to supervise our children effectively online. The Internet can be a world of information, education, entertainment and more. But, if we do not understand how our children use it at different stages in development or understand what they are seeing online, we can be missing an opportunity to correct unusual sexual or violent behaviors.
Having limits is important and should be followed by everyone in the household. Simple actions like eating without cell phones and limiting hours online can make a big difference.
ES: Your organization Komuns was born out of the idea to foster a positive social impact in our communities by helping parents unplug their kids from technology and reconnecting with them through real-world experiences. How are you promoting this important change within communities?
NK: Parents don’t need to be told what to do; they already know. The problem we’re facing is the overload of information, while tackling a lack of time. With so many “online experts,” it can be easy for parents to lose some common sense.
Our mission in Komuns is to help parents develop bonds through leisure time. It’s during our family time where we can influence our children the most to become good people and to grow into better adults. It’s through the changes we inspire in our kids that we change our society for the better. By teaching our children empathy, generosity, philanthropy, we are making an impact, a positive impact in the world.
Komuns was created as the all-in-one solution for parents to find valuable information from reputable sources, explore engaging family activities, and discover opportunities to meet other like-minded parents. Our parenting advice comes from renowned institutions like Making Caring Common from Harvard University, the Greater Good Science Center from Berkeley, and Challenge Success from Stanford University. Activities can be selected based on price range, location, interests, or your unique family profile. It’s ideal for the busy family because of its comprehensive filtering to help avoid the information overload we were discussing earlier.
We are conscious of the new realities of our society with the increase in single-parent households, with the majority of marriages with only one child or separated parents that are constantly wondering what to do with their kids. Komuns also makes it possible for families to meet up and participate in activities with other families so children in similar age groups can play together. We match families based on similar interests and values so parents and children can have the best possible experience.
ES: Thinking of unplugging from technology can be scary. The fear of missing out (FOMO), of being left behind in today’s tech-powered society is real. Where do we draw the line to cultivate a balanced relationship with technology?
NK: I think it’s a matter of priorities. There is a phrase that I love: be present here and now. Our children will grow up quickly and if we want to be a part of their childhood, we need to be present. We also need to be present, so we may ask them to do the same. The overflow of information can be powerful, but it should not be a reason to miss important moments for and with our kids.
6. Any last advice on how to turn technology into an ally instead of making it the dominant epicenter leading our lives?
Set clear rules and expectations that everyone respects. No phones at the table. No interruptions while talking. Plan out limited screen time. These are just a couple of rules everyone (parents included) should be able to abide by.