Less is More: Setting boundaries for ourselves with digital media
Photo via Creative Commons Flickr.
This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people. Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
In reviewing a lot of the existing commentary about the overuse or addiction to digital technology, I have noticed a trend. A number of ministry resources recommend retreats without digital devices. This is a good idea. Retreats without our devices help by calling attention to just how over-connected we are to digital technology in our everyday lives.
However, this does not really address the need to set healthy boundaries apart from retreats. With any other type of bad habit or addiction, you can see the flaw in the logic pretty easily: Go spend an occasional weekend without your vice of choice and then return home to it again. We accept our over-attachment to technology as an inevitable part of contemporary life.
It is not.
There is a great deal of concern over how much young people use their digital devices, but little recognition that they mirror the behaviors they see in adults. Their reasons for wanting to use technology may differ—they primarily use it for socializing, playing, exploring interests—but their overuse and failure to recognize that they should turn off their devices from time to time primarily comes from an example set by adults.
Below is a list of a few possible strategies for expanding our repertoire of routine practices that model technological boundaries well. You probably shouldn’t try to adopt everything on this list, but think about how you might implement a few practices that might make your boundaries more obvious and apparent to the young people in your life.
- Set designated places where you keep, and put away, various devices. Setting physical boundaries helps reinforce digital ones.
- Turn off all your devices before you go to bed and, if you’re a youth leader, occasionally post something that indicates that you are doing so. “Had a great time hanging out with you all today! Shutting everything down for the night. Sweet dreams, Internet. See you and your cats tomorrow.”
- Bring a camera rather than a smartphone to take photos during events. Post the photos afterwards rather than during.
- Here’s a great one from Kara Powell: have everyone set their phones in the middle of the table at the start of a meal. The first person to reach for their phone has to pay for everyone else. (You may need to adapt that consequence for young people).
- Shut your phone off when you attend church on Sunday unless there is a reason directly relating to the service for you to keep it on (e.g. taking notes, texting prayer requests). I will confess that I leave mine in the car on Sundays so I will not be tempted to look at it.
- Set up separate email accounts for work and personal correspondence so that while you are out of the office you are totally out of the office. One member of FYI’s team said she uses two different email providers to make the experience of checking each account feel more distinct and separate.
- If you refrain from texting and social media as part of your weekly Sabbath, see if a friend will babysit your phone and reply to the messages that you do receive. “This is Art, Brad is celebrating the Sabbath today and left his phone at the office. He’ll get back to you tomorrow.” This also conveys a lot of trust, and implies that you don’t have anything on your phone you would be embarrassed about a friend or co-worker seeing.
- When you set your phone down during a conversation or when you’re home, be intentional about placing it face down so that you can’t see any notifications as they come in and are less prone to glance at it.
- Create a “no tech during meals” at home rule that both kids and adults regularly follow so you can practice face-to-face conversation. If it’s too much to make this a standard rule, start with one meal per week. Model for your kids that pretty much any call, text, or post can wait until dinner is done.
- If you have a hobby that doesn’t involve tech, turn your phone off before you start. If you feel like you need to explain later, you can say, “I turned my phone off to practice guitar for a while.” Doing this without apologizing can help create a new culture among your connections that allows space to be digitally disconnected at times.
- We have previously encouraged not allowing digital technology in a young person’s bedroom—the same applies for adults.
- There are a number of apps available that can help you with setting limits on where and for how long you spend time online. Most of these apps are tagged “productivity”—start your search there and see what best fits your needs.
The important thing to remember is that these practices can easily go unnoticed. Make sure you periodically call attention to what you do so that the kids in your home or young people in your ministry will recognize your boundaries. Hopefully they will be inspired to integrate similar practices.
What are some of your best boundary-setting practices? Let us know in the comments section below.
[Special thanks to the FYI team for their contributions to the list above!]
 Golden, A. G. (2013). The Structuration of Information and Communication Technologies and Work–Life Interrelationships: Shared Organizational and Family Rules and Resources and Implications for Work in a High-Technology Organization. Communication Monographs, 80(1), 101-123.