What Does “Always On” Mean For Parents?

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This is a guest contribution from Emma Weisberg, Founder & CEO, Blinkbuggy.

The term ”always-on” is most often used to refer to the way modern technology, especially mobile devices, keep us continuously connected to the internet and therefore always accessible. When you become a parent, “always-on” takes on a whole new meaning, and one that puts intense pressure on you to better manage how you use all those essential modern gadgets.

When you have young children in the home, you are always on in the sense of being on-call or on your toes at all times. The time that used be so called downtime, is now very much uptime. Not only have you added hours of caring for your children to your daily routine, but you never know when you’ll hear a distressed cry or find a child under the weather and in need of extra attention. You are always on at the office AND always on at home. It’s almost impossible to find a moment when you can turn off. Of course, parenthood has been a consuming endeavor since the dawn of time, but today, there’s the added challenge that you are always connected to other spheres of your life through technology, which if not self-moderated appropriately, can prevent you from spending the time with your children really connecting.

Sherry Turkle, in her TED talk called “Connected, But Alone?”, warns that we may be losing our ability to talk to each other and really communicate by hiding behind technology. Have you ever watched a group of two year old’s involved in parallel play? They sit next to each other but never actually share what they’re doing. While listening to Turkle’s talk, I suddenly imagined a scene in a living room where two adults and two young children appear to be parallel playing, each with their own device. Parallel play is fine for toddlers, but we’re supposed to outgrow it.

And then the next day I saw this tweet which was very timely and made me laugh:

I can admit that it’s happened to me. On more than one occasion my two-and-half-year-old son has shut my laptop in my face as I’m trying to shoot out one, last quick email.

Technology and its always on nature can make our lives easier in so many ways and actually allow us to spend more time with our children. Thanks to my mobile, I can review important meeting notes or respond to an email in draft form while sitting on the subway. Knowing that I can be productive on the subway ride home means that I get 30 extra minutes at home with my little ones, instead of at the office. When I travel, we get to see each other and have fun while we talk – thanks G+ Hangouts!

But just because these technologies have the potential to bring us together doesn’t mean we should ignore the way that they can become disruptive to family life. Funny as the image is, a child shouldn’t feel that he or she has to always compete with a laptop for a parent’s attention. By the same token, all parents I know want to feel a deeper connection with their children.

The key to making technology our friend and not our foe is focus. By that I mean, focusing on the task at hand and avoiding multi-tasking, or to use the parlance of our times, being present in the moment. Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist turned parenting coach, notes on her blog that, “Stress research shows that when a task is not yet completed, your brain flags it and worries. The more ’open‘ files your brain is juggling, the more stressed you feel.”

Multi-tasking stresses us out and prevents us from connecting.

I once heard a great talk by a senior, female executive from Coca-Cola who promoted the “slices of life” approach to focusing. In this talk, she was specifically addressing how to manage those crazy years when you’re working hard and trying to move forward in your career, while you have young children at home, but her advice can apply to any multi-tasker. Her suggestion was to see each day as filled with dozens of disconnected slices (e.g., at 10:00am you’re texting like a mad person trying to organize a play date, at 10:30am you’re leading a board meeting, at 2:00pm you’re closing a major deal, at 4:00pm you’re watching the ballet recital, etc.), and no matter how thin the slice is, to give it your full attention.

Complete each slice and move on to the next one. This is especially important at home — put away the mobile phone when you walk in the door, and focus on your children for those two hours until they are in bed. I loved this way of thinking about my day and making the most of each slice.

All of this said, it’s still very difficult to break away from the beeps, buzzes, pings and rings. One benefit to the “slices of life” approach is that, when you hear a text notification come in while you’re working with your child on their homework, you can tell yourself, “I’ll have the chance to deal with that in its slice.”

But if you still can’t seem to break the technology addiction, don’t fear, you can always go on a diet, a digital diet!

The future of now is – Always present, Always connecting.

Learn more about balancing your life with these recommendations from SMW NYC.

Emma Weisberg is the Founder & CEO of Blinkbuggy.com, an ex-Googler and most importantly, Ciela and Micah’s mom. She wants to reinvent the baby book. Find more of her writing at BlinkBuggy and on Facebook.

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