“Digital” and “Detox”: Two cultural buzzwords, all the more buzzy when paired. As parents, the idea of reducing screen time isn’t just aspirational, it’s a bit utopic. Who doesn’t want to be more present around their children? The picture is sublime, sitting with your kids, enjoying playtime—like really, really enjoying it—maybe even feeling like you’re “in the moment,” that elusive state that’s synonymous with true happiness. The reality, however, is more often like this: Phone in hand, one eye on the kids, trying to capitalize on the 2 minutes (maybe five if you’re lucky) when your full attention isn’t required. That’s the time to deal with looming work and school deadlines, text check-ins, appointment confirmations, Instagram, and the like. There are countless things constantly drawing your attention to the screen, thus the idea of a digital detox sounds amazing, but wholly impractical. We consulted Gala Narezo of New York City’s MNDFL, a drop-in meditation center that helps busy New Yorkers find refuge from the onslaught of the city. As a mother, Gala is all too familiar with the real struggles of being a present parent, so we asked her to share some screen time detox tips that are actionable, easy, and don’t require a lifestyle overhaul to achieve.
Whether your detox is a dedicated 20-minute block in the morning, or an entire weekend, the key to really giving yourself this uninterrupted time is planning for it—that way there isn’t a nagging feeling of having one email to send or one text to shoot off. You’re aware of the start and end time, knowing you can get to those things before or after your digital time out. “I have a schedule I try to adhere to. I don’t look at texts, emails or listen to the news until right before I leave the house in the morning. It’s completely changed my outlook,” says Gala.
Make the time on your phone intentional
A detox doesn’t have to be defined by completely abstaining from tech altogether. An easy toe dip is to create space within your usual routine. If you’re out for a walk with your child, heed Gala’s advice, “I ‘pull over’ if I need to use my phone. I try to keep this use for actual phone calls or checking an address, or answering a necessary text.” Once you start walking again, the phone gets put away.
Your detox can be as long or short as you’d like
It really depends on what makes you feel better and calmer. “You might have to experiment to see what works for you,” explains Gala. A device-free weekend or a ten-minute stroll in the middle of the day, whatever helps you clear your head. “Even if it’s for a short amount of time, it makes a big difference,” she explains. You might also want to gradually increase that time. “When I decided to cut out emails, texts and news in the morning I realized I did feel considerably happier when I left the house and for the rest of the day. That’s what lead me to cut out looking at my emails right before bed. It seemed hard at first, but when I started feeling so much better, it became a no-brainer.”
You do have the time
“I think one big impediment to become a more present parent is the idea that you always have to do more or work harder. I have learned from many years of meditation that when I slow down and do less, I accomplish more. It seems impossible that taking time to slow down will present you with more time, but it’s true.” A good reminder if you’re getting the itch to check in during a moment you’re going sans screen.
Be present to yourself, first and foremost
Like the old adage goes, take care of yourself, so you can in turn take care of others. Being present to your children starts with a practice of being present to your needs. “You won’t be surprised to hear that I think a little meditation a day goes a long way,” says Gala. “If you aren’t interested in meditation, I think that taking time to be intentionally present, spending time in nature without devices is a good way to start.”
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