By Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW, Child and Adolescent Specialist in JFCS’s Children’s Clinical Services Department

After watching episodes of Marie Kondo’s Netflix series Tidying Up, I couldn’t help but see the correlation between her work and the work I have had the privilege of engaging in with my clients over the last two decades.

Like the KonMari method, my aim for each of my clients is to empower them to take back control and learn what they need to in order to find balance in their lives:

Rule #1: Become Aware

Some of most exciting new advances in technology are the tracking options on our devices that can help us accurately measure how much we are using certain tools. Take advantage of these new monitoring systems as a way to truly recognize how much of your time and attention is being spent on your device. Much the way a huge mountain of clothing can function on your bed, in this first step you will be face-to-face with the minutes, hours, and days that you are spending plugged in. Let that information sink in and ask yourself: Are there other ways I can be using my time and attention that will improve my health and wellness, make me feel more productive and more connected to the causes and people I care most about, and bring me joy?

Rule #2: Create Sacred Spaces

Technology is something we have all learned we cannot live without. However, that should not mean that we always need to be connected. In this next step, clients find locations in the home where technology is going to live and sleep. Technological devices should always be powered down and charged in a centralized area, such as an office or kitchen. Studies have shown that even if a device is only being charged in a bedroom, it still disrupts sleep patterns. Just knowing that the device is in arm’s reach can create a sense of urgency or need to check. Disrupted sleep prevents our ability to go into the deep restorative sleep that our bodies need to fully recharge—just like our devices, which charge fully only when completely turned off.

In addition, there should be no technology in the car. With new driving laws around cell phones in cars, we need to be mindful of our use of our cell phones and other devices. Be good role models for your kids. Use “Driving Mode” functions to disable distractions and alert those who reach out to you that you will reply as soon as you are able. Also, use hands free options and voice-activated reminders for those last minute “Do not forget to pick up the dry cleaning” messages.

Rule #3: Create Sacred Time

The “when” we use technology continues to be a balancing act for our busy lives. With work, family, and social obligations tugging at us at all times, we depend on our devices to stay organized, informed, and connected to the people we care most about. However, in this hyper-connected state of being, many people actually feel isolated and disconnected. Studies have found correlations between excessive screen time and increased feelings of anxiety and depression, especially for younger children and adolescents. While social media, email, and texting help us feel that we are able to reach out at any moment of need, our attention to our devices can impact our in-person, face-to-face interactions.

In this step, it is important for individuals, couples, and especially families to make a conscious effort to spend time device-free. Examples of some good “tech-cation” times include: first thing in the morning; right before, during, or after pick up and drop off at school; meal times; and especially the hour before bedtime.

One of the most powerful things that you can do to regain control of your device is to alter your notification settings. Take a moment to look at the ways in which your device asks for your attention. Your ringer can be set to silent or only ring when people on your contact list contact you. You may also be able to set “do not disturb” times on your phone, which allows you to have uninterrupted time that you have carved out. The National Day of Unplugging is March 1 — 2, in 2019. What will you and your family choose to do from Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday?

Rule #4: Ask Yourself if Your Device Sparks Joy

What sparks that feeling of joy in you? Marie Kondo uses this feeling to help guide her clients through their clutter. That feeling of joy she describes can also be called a dopamine surge, those warm fuzzy feelings we get when we see something we love. How does this happen? When we are born, we experience huge amounts of a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is triggered when a baby is held comforted, fed, and even smiled at by their caregiver. Over time and as we become less physically dependent on our caregivers, we continue to seek out this “feel good” hormone through interactions with others. When our bodies feel this, they also release dopamine, the hormone associated with happiness and joy. MRI studies have been able to show through their imaging that many of the devices we engage in are also eliciting these “feel good” hormones from us, which makes our devices even more enjoyable to be connected to.

By the time a client reaches out to me for help, either they themselves or a member of their family is seeking out this “feel good” experience with their devices at the expense of other things. They fear that they or their loved on is addicted to their device. There is a fine line between dependency on a device and addiction. Teach yourself to recognize the signs of technology addiction:

  • Is there an increased amount or excessive amount of use?
  • Is your use of technology and devices impacting your school work or productivity at work?
  • Are you replacing activities that once brought you joy with technology?
  • Are you unable to stop your usage, or having trouble finding a balance?
  • Has there been a decrease in sleep or sudden changes in weight gain or loss?
  • Do you feel anxious or irritable when you do not have access to your device?
  • Are you unable to stop use even when trying to find a balance?

The National Day of Unplugging is this weekend, March 1 — 2 . It is a 24-hour global respite from technology. The National Day of Unplugging highlights the value of disconnecting from digital devices to connect with ourselves, our loved ones, and our community in real time.

What will you and your family choose to do from Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday? My recommendation is to unplug for these 24 hours, then on Sunday have a family meeting where everyone can discuss the changes they vow to make.

Seeking resources to help your child thrive? Attend a workshop, schedule a parent education meeting, or schedule an assessment with one of the Child and Adolescent Specialists at Parents Place.

Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW, is a Child and Adolescent Specialist in JFCS’s Children’s Clinical Services Department. In addition to helping her individual clients in areas such as anxiety, depression, and self-regulation, Havi helps families and provides workshops in the community on the ever-evolving issues regarding our relationship with technology and how to better balance our lives online and offline.