As parents and veteran educators, Maree Hampton and Katherine Myers are intimately invested in the role technology plays in the lives of their families, and ours. Long concerned that screen time is replacing activities critical to healthy youth development, Hampton and Myers co-founded Minneapolis-based LiveMore ScreenLess, which offers workshops and workplace consultations, school visits and tips to parents and grandparents, principals and CEOs. They share more about their philosophy about technology (hint: there’s much they like) and why parents would be wise to heed their children’s growing pleas for balance and limits.
Q: Your organization began around a dining room table. Please say more about those early discussions.
KM: Our conversations began two years ago as we were realizing the magnitude of problems brewing just below the surface of highly accessible screens. We were witnessing growing teen depression and anxiety, mounting access to avenues of cyberbullying, especially on anonymous platforms, and increasing distractions in the classroom. Parents were overwhelmed managing devices.
Q: What are you hearing from the young people themselves?
MH: They recognize that, due to heavy use of texting and communicating via social media, they have not had enough “practice” with interpersonal communication. They are asking for lessons in communication. They are also calling on adults, parents and teachers to set boundaries for tech use at home and in the classroom.
Q: Teachers are likely feeling overwhelmed by this challenge. What are they telling you?
KM: Teachers are concerned about learning, distraction, inability to focus, and loneliness and depression among their students. Middle school counselors and staff and other professionals working in after-school programming are managing bullying and social media-propagated drama.
Q: Compounding those problems is the sleep issue, yes?
MH: Kids are not getting enough sleep and screens are interfering. We know a lack of sleep contributes to poor performance in the classroom, and mood disorders, notably depression and anxiety, and an increase in suicidal ideation. A 2018 Pew Research study reports that nearly nine out of 10 adolescents believe excessive screen use is a problem, noting that the 24/7/52 availability and “score-ability” of online social interactions is changing the experience of being an adolescent.
Q: But this isn’t just a kid problem.
MH: This is definitely not just a kid problem. But as adults, we have the benefit of having a fully developed prefrontal cortex and years of life experience, which results in a better ability to make decisions and judgments about our tech use. A preteen, teen and young adult brain is still developing. We do not yet fully understand what screen use is doing to a developing brain but the early studies are deeply concerning.
Q: Are you comfortable using the word “addiction”? Are we addicted to our devices?
KM: A 2016 Common Sense Media poll shows that 50% of teens feel “addicted to their mobile devices.” In our conversations with young people, many agree. While addiction to technology or screens is not yet recognized by the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that certain use of devices stimulates the same part of the brain as is stimulated by drug use, sex, gambling and eating.
Q: In addition to your customized digital well-being plans for schools, families and workplaces, you offer practical tips. Please share a few.
KM: One tool is a “screen tracker,” which clocks time on various sites and apps and follows up with how such tech use makes you feel. We’re partnering with [digital well-being site] Bagby and recommending a tool they provide to help families create a system for storing devices; it’s a reminder of the value of time together.
Q: I appreciate that you also share the many benefits of technology.
MH: Absolutely! We love all the ways that technology adds value to our lives. We emphasize intentional, balanced use of technology and the prevention of misuse and overuse. When we engage with a school or workplace, we bring a wide range of information, research and resources to the table. We ask, “What are you noticing about your own use of devices and how it is affecting your professional, social and family life?” “How is the device use of others affecting you?” “What would you change if you could?”
Q: Tell us about your involvement with an upcoming documentary.
KM: “Tethered” is about technology use, produced by Conscious Content and filmed by Shaman Motion Pictures. We are partnering with Faribault High School to provide student and teacher input on screen use for the film.
Q: What is one change you’d advise everyone to make today?
KM: Remove electronics from bedrooms. The temptation to stay on phones into the night is too great and too easy to do.
MH: Practice being without your phone. Go for a walk and leave your phone at home. See how it feels. The high school students we speak with talk about the need for boundaries. As their parents and teachers, we should heed their advice.