What would it mean for you to switch off your phone for a day and focus on the important things in your life? Would that be unbearable? What things would get completed for you that you have been putting off? How productive would you become? Who and what would you give your full, undivided attention to?

I was having lunch at a new restaurant the other day with my youngest son and there were eight tables sat with people, mainly under 30. I observed the table with four Chinese probably students from the way they presented themselves. Two males sat opposite each other and the two females sat opposite to each other. I observed them for a few minutes and noticed that they all had their heads down, scrolling on their phones. No communications made, no interactions other than being in the presence of each other and fingers on their phones. Then I saw the female furthest away from me, who had her phone glued to her throughout the entire time I was in the restaurant. She was so engrossed with her phone’s content and completely ignored the presence of her friends.

So how would you feel to have such a friend? Would you still want to invite them for a meal and be disrespected and ignored? Would you still be in contact with them? Or are you one of these friends? Do you or does your friend check in on Facebook whenever they are having a meal or a meet up with you and tag you with a photo? I had such a friend who never seemed to be present in the moment whenever we met up for a catch up. Her presence was fleeting, short lived and brief. She would check in on Facebook, announce to the whole world where she was, who she was with by tagging her friends and post a photo up. Or she would call her boyfriend and talk with him or text him.  Her life seemed rather dull, boring, depressing and overcast. I never saw her have a good laugh with us girls when we met for a catch up. She was the most serious girl in our group and we rarely got her full attention to listen to us with the intent to understand. She would be forming a reply, a reaction or a response in her mind as she is listening to us talk. Her thoughts were controlling her life and I was no longer enjoying her company.

Human beings have become so attached to what is going on in the social network world and neglecting the real world that they live in. They have lost their authentic self due to what they focus on,  with whatever they give their attention to that is unimportant to their personal growth. Their thoughts are elsewhere other than what needs their full attention. Priorities are being neglected and relationships are suffering immensely due to the 24/7 access we have to technology, internet and wifi connection. We have become so focused on what others are doing by scrolling down on our Facebook and our mind is wandering, never present in the moment, never mindful, or fully aware of our surroundings.

I was on holiday in Hong Kong in July this year and to my total amazement, most people are oblivious to their surroundings as they check their phone whilst walking along the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) and this seemed rather queer to me! I was intrigued as to how these people felt safe with their heads down, walking down the escalator, then walking into the train, sit down and continue to scroll down on their phone all the while ignoring their surroundings. Some would have their head sets in, some would be talking on their phones and even mature adults my parents age had smartphones and could use them better than me! What a revolution I told myself!

Now bear in mind that the population of Hong Kong is over 7 million!  In Glasgow, Scotland where I live our population is around 592,000 so what a huge difference! Whenever we travelled by Hong Kong’s MTR, the number of people there was colossal and it felt daunting and overwhelming for me to feel safe! I had mobile data on my phone from a SIM card that I was given by my boyfriend’s younger brother, yet I never felt safe to do what the population of Hong Kong were doing as I had the responsibilities of keeping my ten year old son safe at all times. Plus, I was more alert of my surroundings due to being in a foreign city even though Hong Kong was my birth place. I had moved to live in Sootland at aged eight and this was my first visit since, so I was more than overwhelmed and apprehensive on the MTR. Yet I was 100% alert and on the ball!

I was fortunate to have the company of boyfriend’s younger brother, his partner and her daughter on the first Sunday in Hong Kong at Sai Kung beach. As us girls sat down to relax in the stillness of the beach and the men went to play with our kids, I got talking to Joey who had her phone in her hand the entire time we were sat on the sand. I saw Joey scroll on Facebook most of the time and she never initiated a conversation with me. Being friendly and polite I started talking to her and she would respond to my comments and we enjoyed our chat yet I felt it was a rather reluctant affair! I never saw Joey during our entire afternoon at Sai Kung, interact with her partner and daughter. I felt she was missing out on all the fun and on her daughter’s childhood. I can relate to this as I was diagnosed with mild depression and then I had anxiety a number of years ago. So being in the comfort of what we love to do makes us feel safe. I was disconnected with my surroundings and family too so this was a familiar experience for me.

I had missed out on many days of happiness and joy from dealing with my depression and anxiety. It was a result of the bitter, dark, dull and most challenging time in my life after separating from my ex husband, working in a new job, moving house twice within ten months which all took a toll on my well being and overall health. I neglected to take care of my own needs, wants and desires. I was living in the past and holding onto so much sadness, anger, resentment, hatred and pain.  My then two teenagers became addicted to the Internet because I had neglected them, neglected to put a time limit on their internet time, neglected to even ask them how their day at school was, neglected their emotional needs and this created many issues that still exist today. I neglected to take care of my own emotional needs too and I learned that this came from my dysfunctional family’s setup and upbringing.  The only thing I did that made myself happy was playing games on Facebook and scrolling down the page or shopping for things that I did not need.

This created many illnesses for me as I missed out on the magical, happy, joyful and delightful things that were around me each day, that money could never buy and I shall never get back those missed moments, days, weeks and months.  My sleep was disturbed each night with negative thoughts and I would log onto Facebook only to scroll down the page aimlessly. I neglected to see the good in our world and my thoughts were constantly focused on the unimportant things which drained me of my positive energy. I found it difficult to talk to people face to face. My thoughts were fleeting and my attention span was short. It was hard work to focus on my priorities.

Then when I bought my first smartphone, things just went from bad to worse as I had 24/7 access to the wonderful Internet. Oh what fun I had at the time exploring the features of my first smart phone! Facebook became my companion and best friend. It was there for me whenever and whatever I was doing and feeling. I became so attached to my smartphone that I went overboard with Internet usage and my priorities seemed insignificant. There was the advantage of having wifi at home 24/7 for me so my fingers were constantly at work, on my phone! I believe my depression took much longer to recover due to the easy access of the Internet.

As it has become so easy to access the internet from our phones, we are consistently focusing on what others are doing, wearing, saying, where they are and this distraction is detrimental to our personal growth, health and well being. We can watch, read and see the news 24/7 which is toxic to our mental health as well as creating so much fear for us, our children, our family and our daily decisions. This massive impact is creating more illnesses that anyone could ever imagine.

We have become addicted to technology as we have such a huge choice of what to do with the internet and wifi connection as we have easy access to smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops etc etc and the ones who are into gadgets want their hands on the latest one that are launched as soon as the product is put onto the market. These people are willing to sleep outside the store to grab the latest gadget and they can model their latest purchase in the presence of their friends and family. Face to face interactions have become a thing of the past as we can use:  many forms of video chat, texting, social media, emails, forums, chat rooms, instant messaging etc etc.

I had young teenagers come into my work, order what they want without eye contact with me because they are so scared of human interactions. They mumble and shuffle as they have no social skills and this is becoming a huge issue with young teenagers. Ordering anything, at anytime on the Internet has created laziness, diseases, illnesses and human beings are becoming like “robots” as I have observed, especially our younger generation.

Family gatherings nowadays have shifted so much from talking to each other to exercising our fingers together! Each child is happier with a gadget in their hand than to play with each other by using their wild imagination. How is our younger generation going to get jobs later on in life when they are not taught how to communicate face to face with others? How will they handle life when they need to stand up for themselves as adults?

My two elder sons are great examples of how addicted our younger generation have become to the Internet and gadgets. My eldest son (aged 21) has a desktop in his bedroom, a laptop, a PS3 and a PS4 connected to our living room television, a PS Vita and a smartphone of course. He works six long days a week, comes home to his desktop and is on it all night. He never gets fresh air unless it’s for things he really needs to do like banking. He never exercises so his health is less than idea for a young man his age. He eats sugary snacks whilst online and we can guess at what sort of impact all this is doing to his overall well being and health.

Then there is my number two son (aged 19)  who has a desktop too, in his bedroom. He is a university student studying electronics and all of his spare time is spend sitting. Doing what? Exercising his fingers is what I call it! His posture is poor as he hunches his shoulders and his back is suffering from a lack of exercise. His legs are weak due to all the sitting down and he also never exercises to physical exertion. His sleep is disturbed as he keeps his smart phone on in his bedroom. His communication skills is more confident than his elder brother because he speaks his mind! My eldest son asks me to book his doctor or optician  appointments for him because he has a weakness in dealing with face to face interactions.

So for number three son, due to the big age gap with his two brothers, I am teaching him face to face interactions. I ask and encourage him to speak to people whenever he wants something and it is working. He pays for his own bus, train/subway fare, he pays for his own snacks and he pays for our restaurant bill at family gatherings. He has become more confident since we flew to Sydney and Hong Kong in the summer. We taught him how to pay for his own MTR tickets in Hong Kong and he had a brilliant sense of direction. He was my talking and walking satalite navigation system when we got lost in Sydney one day. He is addicted to flying now and has his heart set on New Zealand for our next holiday! This young man has a massive talent of observation. He never misses a thing as he is a visual man!

Young children are a lot more alert and aware of their surroundings than adults because their little minds are less cluttered with toxic and negative thoughts. They are very aware of what is happening at home, school and anywhere else. They are so much more present in the moment and they all enjoy the company of each other even when they are not playing with each other as younger children have yet to develop social skills. Be very aware of what you say and how you say it in the presence of young children because they are listening! Also be very aware of what you do in the presence of young children as they are the best copy cats!

Teenagers, however are totally different because they want to belong to a group, a gang, a cult and a sense of self worth only comes from fitting in. The internet allows teenagers to stay connected with their peers, group, gang or cult so they never feel left out which destroys their sense of self. So it is important that teenagers get their internet time in order to feel happy and they are fitting in.  It is like young children going out to play with their little friends. However, a boundary and an effective time management system needs to be put in place for young teenagers so that:

  1. their homework is completed on time
  2. they study at peace
  3. they are looking after their personal hygiene
  4. they are spending time away from the internet
  5. they are connected with their friends face to face
  6. they are spending quality time with family members
  7. they are contributing to doing chores around the home

It is the responsibilities of parents to teach their children essential life skills and that can only be taught by doing things together away from the Internet. Even a swimming session at your local swimming pool for an hour does wonders for our children. They need the physical exercise so they burn their ever huge amount of energy off and they sleep deep and sound at night. The quality time to bond is priceless and they shall become happier adults with fond memories of their parents presence in their childhood. We can use our own wild imagination to make teaching our children vital life skills fun,  so that they enjoy doing the things that they feel is boring. Life is meant to be fun so be childlike and have lots of fun with your children. This creates so many priceless and valuable memories that stays with the parents and children alike!

Many of us, young and mature, are becoming so disconnected from nature, our surroundings and the people in our lives because we are now more attached to our gadgets, phones, tablets and Internet. We give the Internet more of our time, focus and attention and the people in our lives are missing out on the good and fun times. So it is any wonder that relationships are becoming a challenge more than ever? We seem to be spending less time doing activities outdoors which creates a distance in all relationships. Just a walk in our local park for thirty minutes does wonders to bond with our family, have fun, get some fresh air and exercise. We also get to be mindful without the distraction of the Internet. We can all learn to gradually spend less time on the Internet with a little self discipline. Then we shall reap the rewards and want to continue spending less time online.

I have been leaving my phone and iPad in my bedroom whilst watching a DVD with my youngest son in order to fully focus on the movie.  I have put up a boundary and our new house rule is: no gadgets at dining table when there is more than one person eating. My relationship with my ideal partner is also the same. We give each other our full attention when we are in each other’s presence. Of course there are exceptions to this rule for example, when we were on holiday in Sydney, Hong Kong and London, we would be taking lots of photos with our phone yet that’s all we do with our phones. I am proud of the great progress I have made from being addicted to Facebook and shopping to being mindful and fully aware of my surroundings and the people around me.

So for the parents who are reading this article and are also dealing with any challenges that are draining you and you are neglecting to take care of yourself and your family, get professional help to guide you through this difficult time. I want to inspire you to do it for yourself and your family because they deserve your full attention and quality time. Plus you deserve the best and never settle for anything less.

For those who have friends who are attached to their phones during your catch up or meal together, put up a boundary and set a new rule that states each of you in the group deserves respect so no phones unless it’s a call or else that person pays for the bill!

For students who need to study yet are distracted by the Internet, set smart goals and get to work on making progress for your future!