Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Benefits of a Digital Sabbath? Ask a Mediatrician.

Digital Sabbath. Digital fasting. Digital Ramadan. Digital Lent. The first of these four was a component in a presentation I was at this last week that really stuck with me. Then, between discussion with some colleagues who found this presentation as riveting, we discussed some other possible means by which we could decrease the use of digital media; not only by regulating ourselves, but setting the bar within our families in which everybody needs to follow suit.

This outstanding presentation given by the Mediatrician, Dr. Michael Rich; Dr. Rich is a leader within (or perhaps simply, the leader of) an organization called the Center on Media and Child Health. As mentioned above, the idea of a digital sabbath was just one of many ideas he had in his presentation, but it is truly the one that stuck with me. I think part of this is that even though I do not practice any particular religion, I have many memories from my childhood of Sundays. Why Sundays? Until I was about 10 years-old, all the stores were closed on Sunday. This essentially resulted in days in which families spent time together, as nobody in the family could be working. These Sundays were always the days where public skating rinks were the busiest, or the bike paths in our city were filled with traffic. We truly took a break from the routines of Monday-to-Saturday. While I have no issues with stores operating on Sundays now, (I'd be quite hypocritical to critique that) I am aware of a good number of locally-owned stores that close one day each week; for most stores it is Monday or Tuesday. It makes sense, they need a break from their work.

Why can we not do this with our digital devices?

Can you imagine how a day without digital devices might feel? I'm not suggesting that we start out by practicing this once-a-week for the remainder of our lives, but what if we could initially try this by having one day a month as such? Or what about some other possible approaches as mentioned by some of my colleagues?

  • Digital fasting. Set a specific time, every day, or every other day in which there is no use of digital devices. (eg. 4:30-8:30 pm)
  • Digital Ramadan. Since the Sabbath is associated with Christian faith, I thought we could take an idea from Islamic faith, and look at putting away our devices from sunrise to sunset. 
  • Digital Lent. Why not take the ideas of lent, in which you give up something for forty days, and try to give up just one or two apps that you have, that you don't need, for those forty days. Perhaps we reduce the length of Lent to begin with down to ten days, and graduate it up to forty (or more).

I want to close by recommending that you take a look at the Mediatrician's website. While this post may not be looking at the brain in particular, there are many of my previous posts that have discussed the effects of screens and media on the brain, and here is a new perspective for parents like myself who are trying to find means by which to effectively find a level of moderation for their kids and media, ultimately for the sake of their brains:

The best advice, says Rich, is the same advice he’d have given any parent any time—even before the age of television: “Talk with your kids. Ask them about what they’re doing, and join in when you can. And share with them your favorite media—books, music, movies, games, TV.” After all, he points out, children left to their own devices will eat nothing but cake and cookies. Influencing their media diet is as doable as guiding their food choices. And if he and his colleagues “do our jobs,” he declares, parents will have a much easier time deciphering the menu. 

Taken from "The Mediatrician," found in Harvard Magazine, November-December 2011.  

To conclude, here is a brief video of the Mediatrician's in which he discusses the effects of multitasking on the brain. I recommend it as a start point to begin thinking and reflecting on your kids (or students) and the permission of multitasking.

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