5 Reasons I Put My Family on An Internet Detox
Despite the chubby cheeks and golden hair my children came into the world with, they are far from angels. They succumb to bad moods, messy rooms and require an attitude adjustment every now and then. For most of my years parenting them as a single mom, we played in forests, did our chores and went about life’s bumps and adventures the best we knew how.
Then, my daughter hit 12 years old and started high school. That was when a swirling storm of behaviour changes hit me upside the head. There was an immediate and dramatic difference in where my children’s social influence was coming from and it definitely was not me anymore! It’s been three and a half really intense years of decoding those influences and working to handle them with every tool in my spiritual shed.
Nothing really worked until I pulled the internet…
No More “Little Miss Nice Mom”
As long as my children wanted to ride bikes, play outside and read books, it was pretty easy to keep them healthy and happy. But when their social influences started to be a whole cultural crowd of kids I didn’t know whose values I didn’t necessarily value, things got rocky.
As the kids got older and wanted to open up their communication lines with the world (a totally natural and appropriate thing to do as you’re growing up) it was clear their degree of honesty, productivity and sense of confidence in who they were was tanking and fast.
While there have been some victories and mild improvements in the last three or four years, I didn’t have the level of honesty or productivity I needed and expected in our home. Without question one of the most important things making our new family system a success is the fact that we pulled the plug on the Internet.
In a big way.
Before I confess to exactly how little our kids are now going to be allowed to use the internet in the house, let me explain to you why I think putting in new and stronger boundaries around access to the internet was one of the most important and helpful things our family has ever done, and the five most important reasons we did it!
NOTE: Had my children grown up in a stable family, both parents together, I don’t know if they would have succumbed as easily to the pressures “from the outside.” But given my husband chose to leave when I was pregnant with my youngest, they had a rather unstable beginning.
#1 The Game Has Changed (& The Rules Are a Secret)
We’re presented, for the first time in known history, with a whole new culture of incessant exposure to media and an onslaught of provocative visual imagery that can hold (and keep) our attention hostage. The situation is responsible for keeping an increasing number of otherwise capable and productive people stuck in a rut, distracted, overstimulated and unproductive.
When you add to the attention-sucking trap a rapidly decreasing level of literacy and a compromised state of physical health, we are leading the next generation directly into a swamp of stupidity and overstimulation. Heroically perched for the rescue we can expect to find the well-ironed white coats of the world–ready to prescribe their pills and send you the bill for it.
We can do better than this. We have to do better than this.
The degree to which companies like Google and Facebook are able to access and manipulate data about what grabs attention and keeps it is mind-boggling. Literally, it boggles minds and keeps them fixed in an electronic trance for hours and even days. The algorithms and “secret formulas” they use to design ads and develop apps to grab your child’s attention aren’t exactly made available for public scrutiny.
I have watched each of my children teary-eyed and filled with regret. When given too much control, they would fully admit they didn’t know how to control their distraction or stay honest about their use of electronics when left to their own devices (literally).
We would put in little boundaries, make modest attempts to get busy and improve things and it would work, for a little while. But the changes were too insignificant. As my daughter approached her final year of high school, I felt there was still too much wasted time and attention being lost to electronic distractions.
So, we pulled the plug on the internet in a BIG way.
After several years of observing behaviour and leaving room for personal choice, our family has recently put in place very strict levels of control around internet use and created some other empowering, but not very common, policies for improving the honesty and productivity levels of everyone in the house!
These rules are certainly a much stricter form of control than was ever placed upon me, but I don’t believe it serves us to say, “Our generation did X, Y or Z and we turned out ok.”
Each new generation is being exposed to a vastly different and unpredictable set of social, economic and environmental pressures. We need to examine each situation in its own right. Doing what our parents did only works when if we could live like our parents did, and we can not.
Today’s generation of youth is exposed to far greater threats to their well-being than any generation that came before it.
#2 Broken Bones Heal Better Than Broken Homes
When I was growing up, we had talk of nuclear threat, the Gulf War and there’s no doubt pesticides and processed foods were sneaking their way into our homes. But we still had A LOT of time outside. TV had stations and schedules, so the “cool” shows were only on after supper or on the weekends. Once you had your fix of MacGyver or Little House on the Prairie, you had to wait another week to see the next episode.
The rest of the time, we made snow forts, helped in the garden and rode our bikes around the block. We spent time in playgrounds, parks and playing dress up. We were outside getting our fingernails dirty, and most of the trouble we got ourselves into had to do with scraped knees, broken bones or being grabbed by the scruff of our necks for stealing candy from the convenience store.
Today, the threat is far more sinister.
Our parents worried we would crash our bikes, break our necks, or encounter some physical form of danger for playing where we shouldn’t. Today, while our children sit under our very noses, in our own homes, the things they can expose themselves to and the dangers they can fall prey to are far, far more sinister than a broken arm.
You can easily heal a broken arm.
It takes a whole lot more to mend a broken home or broken spirit.
#3 In the Competition for Attention Against Facebook or Google, Your Kids Will Lose
As ironic as it is for me to suggest this, given the medium for our conversation, I believe one of the biggest threats to our children’s well-being at this time is the internet. I recognize it is as being simultaneously one of their greatest opportunities, but that will only be if they learn to harness and control their attention while using it.
The internet is a powerful tool for people who have significant control over their attention, who are productive, positive and meeting their responsibilities in all areas of life. It isn’t much of a threat to people who are very physically active, highly goal-oriented or who use the internet as a tool of productivity more than a source of stimulation or mind-numbing distraction.
The internet is a very real threat for people who feel lost, distracted, or unproductive. Anyone struggling to figure themselves or life out (which includes most teenagers and young people, but also anyone who is depressed, stressed, anxious or under the influence of alcohol and drugs) is going to submit themselves much more fully to the distractions of the internet.
Given the amount of research and investigation continually pumped into finding out what will grab the viewer’s attention better, faster and for longer periods of time, “the internet” (or more precisely, the companies making money with advertising on the internet) will keep getting smarter and stronger at controlling attention. It’s therefore of vital importance that we improve our ability to harness, focus and direct our attention in a very self-determined way. If you do not have excellent control of your attention, “the internet” will happily control it for you.
The might and strength of internet research and marketing will totally outsmart you and suck you in unless
you’ve got EXCELLENT control of your attention.
#4 The Real Price of Your Internet Bill is Your Child’s Confidence
We tried many different rules and family policies attempting to encourage healthy, positive use of the internet in our home, but as long as there was always access to online communication, there were constant distractions and trickery or deception around attempts to use it.
It may not be the end of the world to watch 10 seasons of your favorite TV show on Netflix in a number of days, but one of the problems in doing so is that it makes for a significant amount of inaction and very little productivity or contribution.
No one, no matter how old, feels good when they are being unproductive and contributing very little to the people and environments around them. The happiest people are productive–they know they can contribute to life, they know they are valued and needed and they feel alive making a difference and engaging in life. The more we let our kids sit around logging unproductive time online, the lower their confidence and overall happiness will become.
It is vital for the well-being of EVERY individual to feel valued and valuable–feeling unwanted, or not needed is what caves many people into deep depression, anxiety and even suicide.
One of the biggest risks of the internet is simply that it holds our attention hostage, thereby compromising our productivity–a confidence KILLER resulting in further withdrawal from life and relationships.
Productivity is the very fabric of feeling good.
NO ONE feels good being unproductive.
#5 They Need Your Help
People give teenagers a bad rap, but one of the biggest problems facing teens (and all children, actually) has to do with the fact that we don’t let them work or contribute in meaningful ways until they are the age of majority. Their bodies are physically ready and able to contribute a lot by the age of 12, but we don’t really let them until they are much older.
This little window, the ages of 13 to 17, are when many children fall prey to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or pressures to engage in sexual activity. Lacking purpose, not feeling a strong contribution, or the feeling of being needed and valued by their group, or society in general, they “slip through the cracks” and look for sensation and fulfillment in other, often more dangerous, directions.
A child’s ability to contribute and produce should not be ignored or underestimated. By allowing them to waste their time and attention on unproductive use of the internet, or by letting them “get away with” not contributing to the home and to the family team in a real and significant way, we undermine their confidence and well-being.
This is as true as for young children as it is for teens. (Teens are just bigger, stronger, noisier and so more difficult to control. Their protest feels more frustrating to us because we’ve lost our ability to simply hover over them with an intimidating glare and demand compliance.)
If you do not enlist your child’s willingness, or earn their respect, and help them put in strong and healthy boundaries to keep them focused on their real goals in life, you will be constantly frustrated and ineffective in your attempts to support them. And, if you have any sense of commitment to your own well-being and productivity, then putting clear boundaries in place is what you need, too.
Trying to create a productive environment when you have unproductive people on board is nearly impossible. There will be a constant drain of time, attention, energy and morale that prevents real health, happiness and productivity from happening.
I’ll be sharing a lot more about this in an upcoming webinar, so stay tuned.
Ooops! I almost forgot to tell you what our new internet policies are! The kids are only allowed *gulp* a few hours of unsupervised access per week. Only on Friday and even then, only if they got all their weekly jobs done! Last week my son didn’t keep his agreements and do the things he said he would, so BUSTED! He didn’t get any internet access.
There’s so much more to the story and I know you will find what I’ve put together incredibly valuable. Whether you’re trying to build a business, a family, or just improve your own personal productivity, the “house rules” we’ve put together are making a HUGE difference to our children and the whole family.
I’ve decided to share the results of all our research and family experiments in an upcoming webinar. I’ll be filling you in on that very soon, so stay tuned. In the meantime, please let me know ANY of the questions you have about improving your family’s or your person productivity. If you have questions about getting your kids off internet, improving the communication, health or happiness of your family, let me know in the comments below and I will do my best to answer all your questions in my upcoming Webinar!!