Detoxing from Technology as a Family

October 16, 2015   •  Posted in: 

How do you know if you and your family have crossed that line from technology use to obsession? Perhaps the true answer to whether or not you have control over the technology in your life is to do a tech detox.

You may want to begin first by trying out the tech detox yourself before evangelizing it to the family. Who knows? Your results may be so impressive it may influence others to join you (or not – especially if you have teenagers.) But when you begin to take your family on this journey, don’t let a lack of enthusiasm or even outright derision stop you from working toward the goal.

These are steps to help with your technology detox:

Plan your progress. When it was just you, planning was simpler. But in order to implement a family tech detox, you’ll need to include the entire family in the planning process. This means you’ll need to be prepared to move to the positive side of compromise and not concede your to your twelve-year-old who cannot imagine life without texting for a week. Are you the parent? Yes. You could just demand everyone take part (and you may have to), but hopefully you can encourage others to buy into the detox. As a way to plan, prior to the family meeting, you could note how, when, and how long those in your family use the technology, including you and any other adults. If you can show evidence of the large amounts of time being spent on various devices, it may be easier for you to gain agreement.

Start small with a digital break. As a way to start small, you may ask every family member to self-designate a reduction in use and jointly come up with an activity to reduce that affects the entire family. For example, one family member may limit texting to one hour per day. Another may limit computer games to one hour per day. Then the entire family may agree to a no-tech zone during dinner. Allow each family member to offer his or her contribution to the tech detox, and work together to come up with an acceptable joint restriction.

Don’t just reduce or remove; replace. Help each family member come up with not only a reduction or removal but also a replacement activity. Ideally, these should include family time and activities instead of reverting to self-isolating choices. The family member who is reducing gaming time could go to a local park to physically play a game with others. For the no-tech zone at dinner, this would mean no television, music, or other distractions, just time to talk and be together.

Clarify your goals. You’ll need to jointly clarify individual and family goals for your tech detox. Just because you’re the driving force behind this, your family will not let you off the hook for your own tech use. Some of the goals your family comes up with may directly affect you, especially for some of those behaviors and devices you’ve placed farther down your “difficulty” list. Just as with a personal detox, try to articulate the agreed-upon goals as pithy, memorable phrases so you can encourage each other with why you’re doing this in the first place. Make a list of these goals and attach it to the refrigerator so everyone can see them and be reminded.

Be clear on the detox rules, and stick to them. With a family detox, there are people around you that will be delighted to call you out if you cheat. Because you are the one setting this in motion, you’re going to come under intense scrutiny, and any cheating on your part could be used as an excuse to cheat by others. That’s why it might be beneficial to start with a personal tech detox first and then bring in the rest of the family when you feel strong enough to maintain a steady example.

Determine the consequences ahead of time. Because there are multiple people involved, you’ll want to have agreement on what the consequences will be and who will enforce them. Allow other family members to make suggestions first and hold your own opinion until last; you may be surprised at how reasonable others can be. Whenever possible, agree to what others suggest, because if you have to dispense the consequences, having them come from others will make them less identifiable with you. If there is a breach in the rules, bring everyone together to deal with it.

Take advantage of what you’ve learned. Each family member will, of course, be responsible to take the lessons learned from this family tech detox and put them into practice. However, you can learn a great deal about each family member and the collective family through this kind of shared experience. Because the tech detox will often be front and center in the minds of your family, you have a built-in conversation starter. You could touch base with each person during dinner or at another joint family time to gather feedback and share insights. Plan to come together at the end of your family tech detox for a family debrief.

Take the next step. As part of your family detox debrief, encourage each family member to move from knowledge to application. Ask each one to think of ways to take what was learned and put it into practice with each person’s use of technology. As a parent, you may want to use this as an opportunity to either reinforce or institute a family guideline around a particular activity or device; that is your prerogative as a parent. Realize that this discussion does not need to end when the family detox does.

This is why I created the book Hooked, and I often recommend technology detoxes for my clients. If you think you are struggling with a technology addiction and need professional recovery assistance, my team at The Center • A Place of HOPE is standing by to help you. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a technology addiction specialist today.

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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