Recently, I had the pleasure of spending two days working with teachers, leaders and parents at Renaissance College, Hong Kong. One of my sessions was specifically for parents and their children, called Navigating the Digital World With Teens. (To see the slideshow, click here.) The previous posts in this series were focused on my work with leadership, and my mini-keynote for teachers.

I love facilitating learning with parents, especially when they are able to bring their children with them. This session was no exception. We had lots of great conversations about the skills and values that are so important today, particularly highlighting the connections between face-to-face behavior choices and digital interactions.

The Power of Tech Breaks

But one of the most interesting conversations we had was about the concept of a “tech break”. This is always a hot topic with parents because when you hear the term you think it must be about taking time away from technology, but in fact it’s the opposite. I first heard about the research being done on this topic at an ASB Unplugged conference in 2008 and I’ve been sharing the strategy with parents since then. Read more about it here.

Often times our adult preconception about the use of devices is that if it’s not related to work or learning, than what they’re doing online is a waste of time. And if it’s just “playing” on a device, that means we should make sure to put those devices away and spend time doing pretty much anything else. We’re very concerned about screentime – but not always paying attention to the quality, because we’re so focused on the quantity. And that leads us to making all or nothing choices about how we allow our children (and our students) to use their devices. Either it’s “on” and we’re being “productive” or it’s “off” and we’re being “balanced” and somewhere in there a little time is usually allowed for “free time” (but generally that’s not seen as valuable or worthwhile).

In this session, I shared my own personal example of how technology isn’t an all or nothing choice, and in fact, there are many ways we can use our technology tools when we’re actually doing something we traditionally consider “offline”.

Offline and Online

I’m sure this will be no surprise, but my example story is about my experience with powerlifting. I spend about two hours in the gym five days a week and do a shorter session each day on the weekend. When thinking about training, lifting weights, and generally pushing your body hard, the last thing on most people’s minds is using a device. But, actually that’s exactly what I do, and each moment I’m using my device it’s serving an important purpose.

Here’s how I use my device (in this case an iPhone) when I’m spending time offline, focusing on physical performance:

  • I track my walk to and from the gym for LISS cardio.
  • I track my training session to see how long it takes.
  • I use my watch to see (and record) my heart-rate as I’m training. Some parts of my training are dictated by heart-rate, so I’m at those times, I’m actively using my watch to see where it’s at.
  • I’m listening to a podcast (I like to learn while I lift) – often about powerlifting, but not always.
  • I’m recording my lifts to send to my coach for form feedback and accountability.
  • I watch my lifts after each set to make sure I’m implementing the feedback and working on my technique.
  • If I need to, I watch a tutorial video about a new lift to make sure I’m getting it right.
  • I’m tracking the weight I’m lifting for each set in my shared Google Spreadsheet with my coach, and leaving notes about how each set felt, so he can see what I accomplished.
  • I’m staying in touch with my Eduro Learning team. The reality of owning a small business is that you need to be available.

Here’s what I’m not doing:

  • Checking my notifications on social media sites.
  • Chatting online (unless it’s a specifically urget work-related question for Eduro.)
  • Watching unrelated videos.
  • Checking my email, responding to email.
  • Posting or sharing videos as I make them – I save this for later when I’m home and I can reflect on the quality of the session.

Managing Offline Time With Devices

We often think about balance in very black and white terms, meaning you’re on a device or you’re off, but the reality is actually much more gray. When I shared this story during the family session, one of the students shared his story about playing Pokemon Go, meeting up with friends in person to have an online battle physically out in the world.

These are just two examples of how we can use technology to support us in our offline lives, here are a few more:

  • Google calendar to organize and prioritize homework tasks within a time structure.
  • A to-do list with reminders based on dates or locations.
  • A fitbit or other step counter to help motivate you to move during the day.
  • A calorie tracker to ensure that you’re meeting your nutrition goals.
  • A meditation app to help learn how to meditate.
  • Students using a dictionary to look up definitions of words while reading.
  • Students researching content during class, in the moment, so they can build their own understanding at their own pace.
  • Students using a chat app to help each other with homework or assignments.
  • Setting alarms or reminders on a particularly busy day.
  • Just taking a break and playing a game or checking notifications for five minutes so that students can come back re-focused (that’s the definition of a “tech break”)
  • Using a short chunk of gaming to help reset your brain (here’s an example about curbing cravings, and a longer podcast that goes more in depth).

These tools can allow us to organize our time offline, so that we can make the most of that time in the way that’s most meaningful for us. Having an all or nothing approach means that we can’t take advantage of the different ways that technology can enable us to be more efficient, more organized, and to help us become better versions of ourselves.

Of course it’s important to have times when we’re present in the moment, when we’re exploring the world, or just connecting with another human being. But this doesn’t mean that “balance” is an all or nothing option. We can find balance for ourselves with (and without) our devices in the ways that work best for us. As parents, and teachers, it’s worth remembering that the ways that our children and students use devices might not be the way we would think about using them, but it doesn’t mean what they’re doing is a waste of time – or that they should put the device away simply because our pre-conception of using technology is different than theirs.

What are your tech breaks?

How do you use your device to interact with your world?

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