5 steps to getting back on track–don’t let the Internet take over your life!

5 steps to getting back on track–don’t let the Internet take over your life!

Times have changed. Long gone are the family game nights, novel reading, and face-to-face conversations. We can hardly remember the days without cell phones, and now we don’t even need to speak to communicate. When acronyms start taking over your vocabulary, maybe it is time to let up on the texting, tweeting and other online messaging techniques.

OMG, technology is taking over our lives!

According to one US census, only 50% of homes had a web-connected computer in 2001. In 2009, The Nielsen Company, reported that “More than 80% of Americans now have a computer in their homes, and of those, almost 92% have internet access.” That is roughly 74% of homes having Internet access at home. And this is not even taking into account WiFi usage on Smart Phones. With phones now providing full access to the Internet, texting abilities and an unlimited selection of games and applications, it is all to easy to get distracted from more productive activities.

According to a study by the charity Personal Finance Education Group, the average age that children are receiving phones is 8 years old. This is not even the most concerning aspect. The problem is that adults, parents, and students, are becoming completely consumed by their phones and computer use. This raises the question; at what point does the overuse of your phone, computer or related electronics pose a threat to your well being and that of those around you? Could we dare to explore the “A” word?

Merriam-Webster defines Addiction as follows:

1 : the quality or state of being addicted
2 : compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful

While your iPhone is most definitely not a form of heroin or nicotine, does it have the same addictive qualities? You can claim that it is “habit-forming” and what about the “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” While it is not a substance, one can argue that the compulsive use of cell phones is becoming a rampant problem in our society. When an individual is unable to function without his/her phone in hand, when they obsessively check emails, updates, and messages, when the thought of going a full day without access makes them upset, should we start to draw a line? And while your cell phone use may not be presenting any physically evident ailments or health problems, they can most definitely create a safety risk for yourself and those around you. In a recent article posted on Yahoo News the stats were astounding, yet not surprising:

“Nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.”

While most of the 50 states throughout the U.S. now require that hands-free devices must be used while driving, there is still a huge factor of distraction. 5,500 people would still be alive, had the driver at fault not been texting or using their cell phones in 2009. This would be the equivalent of the entire city of Powell, Wyoming–population 5,373–being completely wiped out. If a meteor wiped out Powell, Wyoming, we would be in a state of emergency, but because cell phone-related deaths are occurring throughout the year, and across 50 states, it is as thought the impact is not being felt.

Along with the physical dangers and repercussions, our social skills, communication, and development are being affected. And while a quiet concern, this may be just as alarming. Getting an inside peak into homes across America would reveal parents on their phones or browsing the Internet when they could be reading or interacting with their children. Spouses are spending more time on Facebook and Twitter than they are sitting face-to-face at the dining room table having real conversations. Tweens and Teens are in their rooms with the door shut chatting with friends and strangers, opening a new door to predators and a slew of dangers. Parents are at the park with their children, chatting on the phone or engrossed in texting, when they could be playing with the kids or even meeting other parents at the park. What happened to social interaction the old-fashioned way?

Life is short, and we are spending more time staring into the screen of our electronics than we are into the faces of those we love. This does not mean you should go search for a new App to add rotating images of your loved ones to your screen saver. This means that you need to reevaluate your priorities. If you look back at 2010 and have any hesitation when asked if you could have spent less time on the Internet or on your phone…then you need to take a hard look at the time you are spending online! If you tell your children to wait a second when they ask you a question, not because you are in the middle of something important, but because you need to finish updating your status on your favorite social network–then it is time to make some changes in 2010. Join in on the “2011 Family First Campaign…ditch the phone, focus on home” and implement these 5 steps to getting back on track:

1. Set restrictions.

Limit the amount of time you will spend on the computer/Internet each day. More importantly, designate the number of hours each day that you will spend tech-free quality time with one another.

2. Designate an Internet-free day.

Whether you choose Saturday or Sunday (or any other day of the week), pick a day to turn off ALL electronic devices. Including your cell phone. Set an example for your family and children. If you feel you need it in the case of an emergency, then keep it with you, but keep it off. No computers, no phones, no video games, etc. Use those noggins and get creative. The moaning and groaning will certainly occur, but in the end, this will have a positive impact on everyone involved.

3. Do not consume yourself in social networks.

Unless it is job-related, you need to limit your time spent on social networks as well. Check in once or twice a day, but do not fall victim to these networks. When you suddenly realize you have been bouncing from friend to friend for over an hour, think of all the productive things you could have accomplished! Set a couple times through out the day and try to stay consistent.

4. Power down for dinner.

There should be no distractions during dinner. No phones, no computers, and yes–NO TV. Dinner should be a time that families discuss the events of the day and get some insight into one another’s lives. Especially with children, parents need to be aware of what is going on at school and be aware of the changes, attitudes, behavior and moods of their kids. With bullies, peer pressure, and other possible factors that can negatively affect today’s children, we must look beneath the surface and detect the issues before they become devastating problems. Sadly, technology is taking away from the one-on-one interaction that leads to this detection.

5. Lock it up or turn it off before you start the engine!

This is by far the MOST IMPORTANT RULE to live by in 2011. Hands-free or not, cell phones are still a distraction. It takes only one second to take or change a life forever. Put your phone in the trunk, in your glove compartment, zip it up in your purse, put it on silent, turn it off…do whatever it takes to control your urge to answer it, touch it, or even glance at it. If someone asked if you would like to help save a life, would you say no? That’s what I thought–let’s turn off our phones and help to save 5,500 lives a year!

Take the pledge on Facebook!

By Shannon Hughes, Buttoned Up’s Work At Home expert and co founder of www.happyhourmom.com

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