Unplugged

When we were little we weren’t allowed to answer the phone when my mom wasn’t home. Once my parents actually got a cell phone, you weren’t allowed to call them for anything except a real emergency.

One of my constant battles with myself is to disconnect, to pay more attention to the person in front of me than the person on my device, and to let myself be still in silence – alone with myself.

My students do not use their electronic devices during their year in the program. They have them once a week to communicate with friends and family. At first it is hard for them, but they soon learn to appreciate it. Over Thanksgiving break, they visited one of our sister schools. When I asked them how it was today at breakfast, I was surprised to hear their response that they prefer our school so much more. “Miss, they have their cell phones too much. They have them twice during the week and during the outings. They had them all the time while we were out in New York City!” Insert jaw drop. Might I add, my students are 12-14 years old. Pinch me now, weren’t these the same girls asking me a week ago if they could have their cell phones for the trip? (Not only that if I had my cell phone only twice a week and during outing I’d probably have a panic attack!)

At the end of each term, I’m shocked again and again to hear my students say that one of the things they are most grateful for is not having their electronic devices all the time.

They learn to live – to put down the camera and see the view, to talk to each other and not to the device, to resolve conflict in person not over a message, to hand-write birthday cards, and save ticket stubs rather than Instagram collages.

We know it… Our social media feeds are ironically full of videos reminding us to disconnect – like this and this.

But we should also sleep more, eat healthier, be kinder… How many things we “should” do that we don’t until too late. Our lives are full of the struggle to be a better person.

Recently I read two articles for one of my classes that had a big impact on me. The first article, PSY550_W3_SocialMedia, had to do with the effect of social media on our perception of self. The second article has to do with the impact on the brain. – We’re talking release of dopamine and addiction!

“Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.”

That just got serious – fast.

That is my current motivation to unplug. It’s a work in progress. (But I did go to the restroom at the restaurant the other day without my phone without realizing it.) Baby steps…

My students get to learn that their lives and their relationships are worth so much more than being constantly connected.

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But more than that, unplugging when I’m alone gives me an opportunity to spend time with someone else. It gives me time to be alone with myself – to feel all that is inside, to think, to hear myself, to speak to myself (not in the crazy-in-the-head kind of way.) And it is there, in the silence that I’ve discovered a secret inner strength I never knew I had. I’ve discovered how to motivate myself, how to challenge myself, and how to comfort myself.

And best of all perhaps, God has a thing for silence (or at least for tiny whispering sounds).

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