Offline is the new luxury (12)

Time spent on your smartphone: how could you pass it more wisely? And what exactly does it do for you? Each Friday, Irene, who together with Astrid is the founder of Flow, writes about this particular issue.

The (fourteen-year-old) teenager of the house wants nothing to do with my attempts at spending more time – or even at considering the need to spend more time – offline. It’s all well and good that I put my phone aside more often, but when I ask him to do the same, he often responds with: “Ma-ha-m; you really don’t get it do you?” And I find myself struggling between setting stricter boundaries and giving him responsibility to handle matters himself. Because yes, if he is studying hard, getting good grades, going to his sports classes and has a balanced social life, then perhaps it’s all okay right? But on the other hand, he is (as far as I’m concerned) constantly on his phone. And I worry that there is never a tranquil moment in his life. I think back to all those times I was bored in my youth. There was nothing on TV, because we only had a few channels and there was never anything worth watching during the day. And the phone sat in a corner so you couldn’t exactly grab it and wonder off somewhere else with it. If I wanted to call my cousin for a chat, I had to wait ‘til after 8 p.m. because it was too expensive to call during the day (or at least, that’s what my parents told me – perhaps to prevent me from spending the entire day on the phone?). But now. Wow, what a difference. Now, there are messages being sent and contact being made all day long. He is continuously chatting on Houseparty (for those of you not in the know: it’s a group video chat app); he watches all kinds of films about weirdos gaming; and, in between all this, he’s watching a football match on his iPad. It’s no wonder that I worry whether there can be any peace and quiet in his head. Can the brain adapt quickly enough to accommodate all this bombardment? Is there something amazing going on in the heads of young people that their brains will soon be able to make all sorts of crazy, new and interesting connections that my brain can’t?

Meditation has been a big thing in my life these past few years because my mind is always way too busy and I find that I really need it. In fact, for any doubters that may be out there: it’s even scientifically proven to help. Brain scans show that when you meditate regularly, there is less activity in your amygdala (the part of your brain that performs a primary role in processing, among others, emotional reactions) when negative, positive or neutral images are displayed. You could say, therefore, that if you meditate, you become more emotionally stable. I feel, however, that my son is heading in the opposite direction: he never switches his mind off and takes a break from the incessant influx of stimulation. Now that I think about it more, I do occasionally make a half-hearted attempt to change things (“Okay you lot, everyone put your phones away now”) and I keep an eye on things. I’ve also started a training course for mindfulness for teens. I mean, how wonderful would it be if they started being taught mindfulness at school in the not so distant future? Not having to ban our kids from sitting on their phones all the time because they are learning themselves where their boundaries are. They would learn to be observant and discover how nice it is to sometimes focus their attention on their breathing or their big toe. They would notice how good it feels to occasionally switch off. The training (originating from England) is called .be (pronounced ‘dot be’, and it stands for ‘stop, breath and just be’. A good lesson to learn indeed. No matter how old you are.