FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. This fear is the center of technology addiction. It’s why your kids whip out their phones the moment they start to feel bored, why your friends are adding so much of their lives to social media, and quite probably why you find it just as hard to put your phone down.

How Did We Develop FOMO?

Instilling FOMO is built into many of today’s entertainment devices, especially smartphones and social media. To a certain extent, this is deliberate. Smartphones and other devices want you to use them as often as possible. That’s why they flash when you have new messages, beep to get your attention and provide apps suitable for everything from health care to grocery shopping.

As time goes on, we tend to get more and more dependent on technology. How are you going to navigate to new places if you don’t have the GPS on your phone? How are you going to contact your friends if you don’t remember their phone numbers or your social media logins? How are you going to take a picture of something amazing without buying an expensive, separate camera?

The cause of this is – surprising nobody – money. Device sellers and app makers may or may not make a profit from the devices themselves, but they do tend to profit from internet and phone connection plans, from selling ads, and from gathering information to sell to advertisers. The more you use a device, the more opportunities they have to gather information.

Given that, it makes sense to make technology as addictive as possible. You may have heard younger people say that they can’t live without their phone. They’re wrong – they can definitely live without it – but many of them genuinely don’t know how. Today’s children and teens have had technology all their lives, and it’s been an endless source of information, entertainment, and connection to their friends.

It’s hard to emphasize how much of a shift this is from earlier generations. For many of today’s youth, technology is all they really know, and it’s literally changed the way they think. Many kids would rather lose an arm than permanently lose technology, and they were conditioned to think that way. Every jolt of happiness from a ‘like’ or ‘thumbs up’ on social media feeds our brain’s reward center, and that’s how many technology addictions begin.

Now, this doesn’t mean that living technology-free is the only “good” way to live. Frankly, technology is embedded in so much of our economy that not using it poses a serious problem to people’s employment prospects. However, everyone – young and old – should understand technology addiction and know how to deal with it.

How To Take Control

Fighting technology addiction is possible, but you will need to take a few steps. Like most addictions, it’s easier to slowly wean yourself away, especially if kids and technology often go together in your life.

Step 1: Understand How Important Technology Is In Your Life

Technology can be split into three levels of importance. First, Life Support covers technology that’s required for you to live in reasonably good condition. This covers medical tech, heating and cooling, access to safe water, and similar matters. Losing access to this isn’t like having to find another way to entertain yourself – it could be genuinely harmful. Thus, this is the most important level of technology.

The middle level is Daily Living technology, which covers things like transportation, hygiene, food storage, and other things you don’t really want to live without. It’s possible to minimize your use of technology here – biking instead of driving, eating room temperature foods instead of freezing and reheating things, etc. – but that’s more-or-less optional.

That said, some forms of entertainment technology may move up to this level when personal circumstances dictate it. If you need to be “on call” for work, for example, keeping your phone nearby isn’t a sign of addiction.

The lowest level of technology is Entertainment. This includes things you like – television, smartphones, computers, and so on – but that you don’t need to stay sheltered, fed, and employed. Since this technology isn’t necessary for daily life, it’s designed to be addicting. The more addicting it is, the more you’ll use it, think about it, and do whatever you can to keep it in your life.

Step 2: Talk About It

This is a step that many people forget to do – and that’s a problem because discussing technology addiction with your family is one of the most important ways of fighting it. Teens, in particular, tend to be a little hostile to the very idea. However, remember that technology is all they’ve really known, and saying it’s bad is a little like saying earlier generations shouldn’t drive cars.

That said, most teens will come around – especially if you explain that while you’re okay with the technology itself, you don’t want them to be totally reliant on it. Many teens react well if you frame it as a chance to demonstrate how responsible and mature they are.

Step 3: Learn To Regularly Unplug

One of the best ways of dealing with technology addiction is learning to resist it by unplugging. In this context, “unplugging” means turning off devices and notifications and trying to limit your use of technology as much as possible. There are times when you can’t do this (such as needing access to a medical machine), but most Entertainment devices can easily be set aside for a week with no long-term harm.

The key here is to learn that you don’t have to react to every update and pause everything else in your life to interact with technology. This can be good for your social life, too – if you interrupt a friend to read a notification from someone else that they just had lunch, your friend isn’t going to feel like they matter to you.

It’s important to do this more than once. Setting technology down for one day is not enough to break the addiction to it. On the other hand, regularly unplugging will teach you (and your kids) that you can do it at any time and be none the worse. Some people choose to unplug one day a week, and that’s about all that’s practical in our society.

Step 4: Limit Your Use Of Technology

Once you know how to unplug, it’s time to start limiting your use of technology. Teens, in particular, shouldn’t be using technology before bed. Start imposing some household rules, such as turning off all phones at a particular time (say, 7 o’clock), all computers at another time (8 o’clock), and so forth. This makes ending the day without technology more of a habit than anything else.

For enforcement, consider collecting all phones and putting them in a box in a public area. If there are any exceptions to this – such as needing to take a call from work – make sure your family knows that’s the only sort of exception you’ll allow.

Of course, without technology, many teens may go straight to bed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does nothing to help them resist their technology dependence. Instead, try to set up some family time – play board games, talk about your respective days, and try to fill the void of time with something else they find interesting and valuable.

Tips For Managing Teens

Controlling your own use of technology is easy. It’s harder to manage it when you have children, especially if they’re used to a great deal of freedom. Most teens are extremely possessive of items and freedoms – once they have something, they really don’t want to give it up.

Ideally, you can set the ground rules before you give them a device of their own. Start small – limit their access to an hour or two each day and don’t allow them to bring it into their room. Slowly ease up on these restrictions over time, preferably as your child earns privileges in return for things like doing chores or keeping their grades up.

Clarify this from the very beginning with a written contract. Teens don’t like arbitrary restrictions, but if they know what the limits are and how they can lift those limits, most of them are willing to play along. This is especially true if you make the contract as a prerequisite for getting them a phone in the first place. Their desire to have the phone will get them to accept almost any conditions.

If your teens already have their own devices, make sure you implement restrictions as a family rule. Your kids shouldn’t feel like the limits are an attack on them – and, if you introduce the subject by talking about sleep and how technology can hurt them, they’re more likely to accept the new rules.

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