We all do it—answer a text during dinner, play one last game on our phone when we should be working, or compulsively check who has liked our latest post.
As adults, most of us know that the technology at our fingertips—computers, phones, tablets—are meant to serve us rather than rule us … and we still find ourselves enthralled by the power of our screens.
Yet for young people, especially teenagers, it’s even worse. We’re rapidly discovering that technology is taking over their lives in a myriad of unhealthy ways.
Study after study has shown that kids are spending more time looking at screens and less time socializing or exercising, and the results are telling. A recent article reveals that eighth-graders who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy, and that number jumps to 56 percent for those who spend more than 10 hours a week.
An even more distressing report notes that depression and anxiety rates between 2007 and 2015 spiked among American teens, leading to a 31 percent increase in the suicide rate for 15-to-19-year-old boys, and the rate more than doubled for girls.
Yet we cannot, nor should we, put the technology genie back in the bottle. We know that younger generations require expertise and training to succeed in an increasingly digital world. What we are talking about is balance; finding a way to encourage kids, as well as ourselves, to put down the phone and look up—to engage with others, to explore the world, to be present.
That was the driving thought behind Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada’s Unplug to Connect initiative. On June 1, we encouraged all Canadians to commit to unplugging from their devices for one hour (or more) and use that time to connect with friends, family, co-workers, and peers. No smartphones, no tablets, no computers, no screens.
At Boys and Girls Clubs across the country, young people spend time away from smartphones and computers every single day—playing together, learning together, and being mentored by caring adults. But the first day of June was special as children, youth, and staff in our Clubs across Canada joined in Unplug to Connect, participating in various activities that fostered personal relationships and community building.
We had a pick-up basketball game on the front lawn of Parliament Hill and invited MPs, Senators, and staffers to spend an hour shooting hoops with kids from our Ottawa Club. And in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, R&B queen Jully Black gave a moving “unplugged” performance.
We all need to role model the behaviour that will lead to smart choices in our lives, and in the lives of young people. We need to help younger generations see that to make healthy connections, and to decrease the rates of anxiety and mental health challenges, true personal connections are vital.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”
If we hope to help our children negotiate a fast-moving world, one so very different from the one we experienced growing up, we need to take the small first step of slowing down.