The Key of Digital Detox
I am convinced—from scientific research, from personal experience, and from counseling teens—that any attempt to replace anxiety and depression with peace and joy must have a plan for getting our digital devices and social media under control. All the research indicates that our overuse and misuse of digital technology is one of the greatest causes of mental and emotional distress today, especially among teens.
Science shows that overuse of digital technology reduces attention spans, concentration, reasoning skills, IQ, brain density, emotional resilience, and the length and quality of our sleep. Also, excessive use of social media has been connected with poor self-esteem, social isolation, negative self-comparison (often called “compare and despair”), feelings of inadequacy, the pursuit of perfectionism, and shallow relationships.1
Most social media platforms actually make anxiety worse, and Instagram is by far the worst culprit.2 We were never intended to know so much about other people. Especially when we are young, our minds need to focus on developing and growing and living—not on other people’s lives or problems we can’t fix.
Sexting and pornography bring burdens of guilt, shame, and anxiety. Images of violence leave their own scars on our brains and psyche.
Counselor David Murray introduces readers to the personal stories of 18 teens who have dealt with different types of anxiety or depression. From these accounts, Murray equips teens with keys to unlock the chains of anxiety and depression and experience new liberty, peace, and joy in their lives.
Even when we admit that damage is occurring, it’s very difficult to get technology and social media under control. That’s why our overuse of it is increasingly being compared to an addiction, with brain scans showing that screen time affects the brain in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Some researchers are even calling screens “electronic cocaine” and “digital heroin.” This is why we need a digital detox.
You can do a digital detox by doing three things. (I’ll refer to phones but these apply to all digital devices, including game consoles.)
- Reduce frequency: limit the number of times you check your phone.
- Reduce duration: shorten how long you spend on your phone.
- Reduce damage: stop exposure to damaging content.
Here are some specific tips for implementing a digital detox.
1. Start the day with God.
Do not check your phone before you check in with God by reading his word and praying. Do not let your phone interrupt you during this time. Ideally, put it on airplane mode or put it in another room. Let the first impressions made on your mind each day be from heaven.
2. Turn off notifications.
Your brain needs peace and quiet. It needs to rest regularly throughout the day. So why not carve out times when you simply turn off all the beeps and buzzes and pings? Start with one hour a day, and then increase that hour or add more hours scattered throughout the day.
3. Limit your check-ins to once an hour.
Many teens check their phones over thirty times an hour. Commit to checking in only once or twice every hour. Few messages require an instant reply. Try to view your phone as a person. Would you let a person constantly interrupt you throughout the day when you were doing other important things or in conversations? No, you would tell people they were rude and stop them. Do the same with your phone.
4. Put your phone in another room when you are studying.
That way, you not only won’t be interrupted but you also won’t be tempted to reach for it and be distracted from your studies. This will increase the quality of study time and free up time for other activities.
Our minds need to focus on developing and growing and living—not on other people’s lives or problems we can’t fix.
5. Inform your friends.
Tell them what you are doing to limit your tech use so that they will not expect instant answers to texts. Suggest putting your phones off or away when you are hanging out.
6. Avoid reading terrible news.
Don’t let your phone become a portable bad-news machine. You can read the headlines, but try to minimize exposure to violent stories and images.
7. Consume true, good, and beautiful media.
Fill your mind and heart with healthy, fun, beautiful, and truthful media to replace the opposite (Philippians 4:8). That rules out many computer games.
8. Cut out pre-bed use of your phone.
Using screens right before bed not only introduces things to worry about into our minds, but it also delays, interrupts, and shortens sleep.
9. Ask for help.
You need accountability and support, so why not ask your parents to help you get technology under control? Use Covenant Eyes to keep you accountable (see www.covenanteyes.com). Perhaps designate an area in the living room or kitchen where you have to leave your phone when at home. If you are being bullied, sexted, or being asked to send nudes to people, you need to tell your parents or a teacher and ask them for help.
10. Enjoy the moment.
Put the phone away and enjoy the scenery, the event, or the friends without having to Snapchat or Instagram it all. Build real-world face-to-face relationships.
11. Spend more time with people than with your phone.
Do things together in the real world, especially sports, hobbies, and simply relaxing and enjoying one another.
All the scientific research encourages us that if we can get digital technology under control, we will do so much better—physically, intellectually, relationally, vocationally, educationally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Jean Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria, 2017).
- Amanda Macmillan, “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health,” Time, May 25, 2017, https://time.com/4793331/instagram-social-media-mental-health/.
This article is adapted from Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression by David Murray.
How can you help your teen wield their technology for good purposes, while avoiding the inherent dangers?
Technology is not itself bad, nor is it innocuous. Though we’re not all aware of how we are being changed by our digital habits, we are being changed nonetheless.
Tony Reinke reflects on how to do a digital detox, why we should be careful with our social media habits, and what the massive success of the new Avengers film can teach us about our media saturated world.
Our screens project images to us that are more attractive than our real lives, and that’s all by design. Lured in, we escape into our screens, get hooked, and find it difficult to escape.