During a weekend stay at Sandy Balls Holiday Village I took the opportunity to go offline and take a digital detox. At Sandy Balls Wi-Fi was only a available in the communal areas and 4g coverage was thankfully poor in the New Forest so I welcomed the chance, or perhaps challenge, of being unplugged from the web, email and social media. I absolutely love technology and the Internet but between my work, general surfing and maintaining Travel Better I build up a lot of screen time and my eyes sometimes feel square by the time I go to bed at night. More importantly I worry that some of the time spent online is taking my focus and time away from the kids.
Doing a digital detox: Why do it?
The digital family
The digital family
The digital family
While at Sandy Balls I passed by a family sitting on a bench using the Wi-Fi in the communal area. The parents were sitting glued to their phones while the kids looked on desperate for interaction but were being ignored. But what really struck me was that none of them looked happy with what they were doing but seemed unable to stop. I didn't want us to be that unhappy family.
Doing a digital detox: The physcial habits
The first and possibly most worrying aspect I encountered in the digital detox was the discovery of physical habits I had developed. I would grab for the tablet or phone and start to head towards social media wihtout even thinking. I caught myself doing this a lot during the first day and felt like a smoker twitching to hold a cigarette. To help with this I sat down with the kids during art and craft time and did some drawing with them. This was a lot of fun and the kids responded well to Dad joining in and I found taking my time to draw batman and superman, albeit badly, very relaxing.
Doing a digital detox: The mental habits
So after deploying the art of distraction to beat the physical habits I now had to overcome the mental habits of wanting to stay connected to the world and worrying I was missing an urgent email or Twitter update. This was most noticeable in the evening when the kids were in bed and dinner was over. Similar to the physical habits distraction helped but mainly by engaging in conversation with Charlie and taking the time to listen fully rather than half-heartedly while I also glanced at my phone. I then took some time to read which is something I rarely do anymore and had almost forgotten what fun it was. But the last thing on my list was probably the biggest mental benefit of being offline. I went to bed at a reasonable hour and got a good night’s sleep, so often I would have the intention to go to bed at a reasonable time only to 'just' check my phone and then spend the next hour reading Facebook etc.
Doing a digital detox: The best times to go online with kids
Interestingly there were times with the kids, but not very many, when going online would be a good thing. One example was soft play. While the kids were charging around and making friends I was just sat at the side watching and in all honesty got bored pretty quickly and they weren't really interested in me either as there were lots of other children to play with. Here I really started to miss my phone and instant access to all the information it held. I began to wonder if in these circumstances would surfing the web be much different from reading a newspaper. The kids were happy and I could see they were safe and I could catch up on the latest news and sports, read the latest update from Nomadic Matt, or check out the latest flight deals to see if there was any chance we were going to get that trip to Singapore this year. Additionally, with me just sitting there a bit bored there was a strong likelihood I would take the kids away to do something else before they were ready to leave (although sometimes they would stay all day in soft play so no time was going to be good). They were happy, safe, making friends and getting some exercise. Taking them away from that just because I was bored didn’t seem fair. Especially as I could keep myself occupied so easily just by enabling the wi-fi function on my phone. Sometimes it is okay to be online when spending time with the kids just not when they need your time and focus.
Doing a digital detox: The results of my digital detox
Overall my digital detox was a success. I learned that I had developed some worrying behavioural issues from overuse of technology and needed to cut down my screen time but I was far from being addicted. An addiction is something that disrupts a person’s entire life by taking all focus, time and energy and would be a major issue to give up. This wasn’t the case for me and once I turned my focus to other things, like playing with the kids, the urges to go online disappeared. I don’t need to be constantly plugged into the net like Neo in the Matrix to have a good time. In fact when I reduced my online time I gained an increase in quality time with Charlie and the kids and this is what I take away most from my digital detox.
Going forward I now apply the following rules to my digital time to try and achieve a healthy balance.
No devices at the dinner table.
No devices during playtime except for taking photos.
I encourage the kids to tell me to get off my phone/tablet/computer.
Give myself a night or two off from anything digital every week giving my eyes and my mind a break.
Doing a digital detox: Give it a try
Want to know whether you should try a digital detox or perhaps worried about how much time you spend online. Take this easy test at the Centre for internet addiction to see if you have an issue. If you score highly on the test you should consider reducing your online time and maybe even seeking help at your family Doctor or through Cognitive behavioural therapy. Tips for undertaking a digital detox
Take a trip to somewhere without an internet connection. This could be a resort like Sandy Balls, a camp site or even a place specialising in being unplugged and offering digital detox retreats.
Keep busy and at doing things you want to do to more easily focus your mind away from your devices and the internet.
Leave your devices e.g. phone, in another room while you spend quality time with your friends or family.
Get your partner or friends to do a detox with you so you can help spur each other on.
Go old school and do activities with a paper and pen rather than tablet of laptop to avoid the temptation to just check that mail quickly.
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