Three Words for Digital-Age Parents: Access, Balance, and Support

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Here’s a given about being the parent of a young child—it’s exhausting. Mix in some unknowns like your child’s seemingly unnatural attraction to glowing screens, and it can be bewildering. What’s the right mix of apps and grass stains?

Here’s another given. There is no “correct” answer, and you’re probably too busy to read a 15-page research synopsis, like the Fred Rogers/NAEYC joint position statement on use of technology with young children. (Just in case you have the time, see http://www.naeyc.org/content/technology-and-young-children.) The document addresses many of the concerns and controversies involved with raising a young child in the digital age. Full disclosure: I was one of the many advisors to the document, so I know it well. Because you have laundry to fold, let me boil down the key ideas to three words:  access, balance, and support, or ABS. Just like your car’s brake system.

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Practical Frameworks for Beating Burnout

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In a way it’s ironic that this problem plagues Type-A players the most. The people who want to do their best and accomplish the most end up limiting themselves unintentionally. In startup culture, this usually manifests in people trying to have peak performance at work while also going to all the social events and being great to their families at the same time. Then they’re hard on themselves for not getting perfect marks in every category. As soon as they meet their own bar, they raise it.

But there’s a second, even more invisible cause of burnout: The lack of inclusive environments in tech. This isn’t solely about gender or race or even socio-economic background. It’s about your personality and work style and how you operate professionally. Everyone is different in these ways, but tech companies — and startups in particular — tend to demand a specific style.

Think of the talented introvert in a workplace where you have to fight to get heard. Maybe you’re a night owl, but the hours required are designed for morning people. Perhaps your work requires dedicated, quiet, constant focus but most of your co-workers listen to pop music and take loud phone calls all day.

“Most organizations haven’t evolved to create an environment that embraces the diversity of their people,” says Saxena. “Which places an additional burden — or you can even think of it as a tax — on the folks who have to strive to fit in with the prevailing culture. They basically have to be someone they’re not at work, and that’s exhausting.”

Put your life into flight mode

Illustration by Thomas Pullin

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It wasn’t overly surprising, really, to learn from two recent psychology studies that being “on call” is stressful, exhausting and dampens your mood… And these days, whatever it says in your contract, aren’t most of us with jobs increasingly on call, all the time? …As many a glum cultural critic has noted – even if recently it seems as if the critic’s name is usually Jonathan Franzen – technology has eroded the boundaries that used to segment our lives… What this new research underlines is that the mere possibility of interruption is sufficient to cause trouble, even if that interruption never comes.

…Nonetheless, it’s worth asking if there are ways you’re effectively putting yourself on call when you needn’t be. For example, I now habitually switch my mobile phone to flight mode for an hour or two each morning; sometimes I do it overnight, too, and I’m convinced I sleep better, even though nobody calls at 3am when I don’t. Other possibilities suggest themselves: if you don’t need to answer work emails at the weekend, don’t check them. (Use a separate address for non-work messages, or set up a Gmail filter so you see only those you want to see.) Use a different device if you can, too: using work technology at home, it’s been shown, makes it harder to detach.