Strengthening relationships by breaking up with technology

By Sydney Johnson - Contributing columnist

Sydney Johnson

Last week I partnered with the 4H agents in Duplin and Sampson to host a Health Rocks! day camp to teach children about decision making, the effects of drugs and alcohol, and a healthy diet. With around 14 youth, the camp was an absolute success. However, there was something that really stood out to me throughout the camp which I had not noticed before. Almost all of the children in camp, ages 7-13, had a cell phone and requested “screen time” during our 9am – 4pm day. Now I have worked with kids before, but mostly this was in the schools where phones were not allowed. Being at camp, the kids were allowed free time twice throughout the day so they could play games, chat, and, of course, use their cellphones.

I talked about cell phones with some of the girls one day and asked them what they would do if they weren’t allowed to use their phones or didn’t have one. The responses I received were along the lines of “I would die.” Now I was a young, very dramatic girl once, but after three days of camp and watching them gather around their cellphones instead of playing games, it really got me thinking about how dependent we are on our mobile devices. I am just as guilty of being on my phone several times a day: checking emails, facebook-ing, and using other social media sites that cut off that face to face interaction. We have become so dependent on technology that it is getting in the way of our interactions with those around us. Think about the last time you sat down at the dinner table with your family. How many came to the table with a phone or tablet in hand? What about the last time you were in public? How many people did you see walking around using their mobile devices?

Christina A. Jolly from NC State University’s Very Important Parents program talks about the issues of becoming so obsessed with technology. She says “historically children have learned basic emotional and social skills from their parents and the people they see most often. If everyone around them is texting and emailing then where can they learn this communication?” I think she proves a great point in what we are teaching this generation. Here are some tips from Christina Jolly to help you decide if you are “technology obsessed” and how to stop it:

1. Do a mindful assessment. Over the course of a week, track how much time you use social media/the internet/your phone. You will be surprised by how much time you spend on these. Start by trying to cut the time in half.

2. Ask a human. Sometimes you can find more accurate and detailed information when you ask other people for directions, and no Siri doesn’t count! When planning to attend your next meeting or event try asking the coordinator for directions. That doesn’t mean that you can’t rely on Siri once you’re in the car, but getting those personal landmarks and best route options from a real person will be helpful.

3. Make rules for the table. When it comes time to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner make a rule of no phones or devices. There have been some restaurants in California that have incentivized this trend by offering discounts to peoples if they decide to leave their phones at the front desk! What a brilliant idea!! You could use incentives too!

4. Call rather than text. When you get a text from someone try calling them back rather than having a long conversation over text. The information gathered through inflections and emotions in conversation are often lost in digital messages. This can cause you to read more or not enough into a comment from someone.

5. Be interactive. Plan a lunch date or a physical activity with a group of friends by calling or talking to them in person rather than through an e-Vite or text. Doing more physical activities with friends will help with the socialization during the activity and make it less likely that people will be on their phones.

6. Find a tribe! Get your friends to join in your efforts. When we have other people supporting us, we tend to be more successful. Check in with each other and see how everyone is doing. The more this becomes a group norm within your social circle, the easier it will be!

Sydney Johnson is an Extension Agent specializing in Family & Consumer Sciences, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and can be reached by calling 910-592-7161 or by e-mail:

By Sydney Johnson

Contributing columnist

Sydney Johnson Johnson

Sydney Johnson is an Extension Agent specializing in Family & Consumer Sciences, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and can be reached by calling 910-592-7161 or by e-mail:

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