Addiction, Avoidance, Distraction & Technology

texting 2Electronic Fellowship

In a hallway between the sanctuary and fellowship hall at my church sits a pew where most Sundays a half dozen teens fellowship with their cell phones, Ipods and Kindles. During service, their fellowship continues, and many adults join in the fellowshipping with their Ipads and smart phones too.

This electronic fellowship ceases – sort of – during worship but returns fully at sermon start, continuing until the “stand and pray.” Sure, some may use their devices for Bibles, but I’m pretty sure doing so involves less thumb movement.

I realize the caution needed here regarding law and rules and judging others, so let me turn this on myself. I leave my cell phone at home on Sundays and Wednesdays when I go to church because if I don’t, I’ll fellowship with it instead of fellowshipping face-to-face. No matter how much I say I’ll leave it in my bag, the temptation to check it usually wins out at some point.

And yes, I’m even tempted during the sermon (sorry, Pastor) to check messages. I’m simply better focused on connecting with the body and hearing from God if my handheld device gets alone time at home while I’m at church.

But I can’t help but wonder…

Do so many teens stay on their devices while at church because they don’t want to talk to other people? Or, are they simply that addicted to texting or gaming or whatever they’re doing? Do the adults on their devices during the sermon simply have an addiction to staying connected? Or, are they using them to distract themselves from what they know they need to hear but don’t want to hear because then they’ll have to change?

For my part…

I know it’s addiction since I sometimes just can’t seem to resist the lure. It’s avoidance too, because some days my introverted self finds my cell phone much easier to connect with than the people around me. And while I’m at it, I’ll admit that its also distraction. After all, mindlessly surfing the Internet is a great way to not deal with life and forget about mistakes.

Beyond the Church Walls

Certainly, this is not a church-specific problem since this particular challenge with technology exists abundantly outside the church walls too. And unfortunately, our obsession not only allows for easy avoidance and distraction, but it is also creating some serious social issues with far-reaching impact.

According to Psychology Today, a prolific use of technology causes…text 3

  1. Isolation – We feel socially isolated because we end up substituting or mistaking electronic relationships for physical ones.
  2. Unhealthy substitution – Reading LOL in no way lifts your spirits like hearing a person’s laughter. Likewise, electronic confrontation limits effective resolution since emotions rarely come across as accurately when written as when experienced in person. These types of substitution limit the necessary human contact relationships need to deepen and grow.
  3. Loss of etiquette – Many people say online what they would never say in person. Likewise, electronic communication allows for avoidance of difficult situations simply because ignoring and sidestepping is easier electronically than face-to-face.

These are just some of the challenges presented by over-use of mobile devices, challenges that happen when we choose electronic communication too often over face-to-face connection. And, unfortunately, this causes us to become increasingly uncomfortable experiencing and expressing true emotion but at the same time craving it to the point of desperately seeking it out even more and usually in the wrong places.

In closing, consider the following quote by Jonathan Safran Foer in “How Not to Be Alone.

“Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat… My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.”

DISCUSSION: Weigh in on how you see addiction, avoidance and distraction with regard to the use of technology. Please offer any solutions and bring in any relevant Scripture application.

How Parents Can Model Balanced Technology Use

1380315_40329376Parenting & Technology

My parenting has never not known technology. In fact, I’m not sure how my parents disciplined or entertained me when I was a kid.

Today, my relationship with my kids cannot escape the influence of technology. Like it or not, technology shapes my kids’ thinking and will forever be a part of how they interact me and with the world.

More and more though, technology also impacts how I think and interact with the world. And I’m discovering that if I don’t deliberately choose how that interaction takes place and especially how much that interaction takes place, it too easily replaces valuable connection with others.

Training a Child

According to the Pew Internet Research Project 75% of all teenagers have a mobile phone, and 58% of all 12-year-olds have one. Of those kids…

    • 90% send/receive texts
    • 50% send 50 or more texts daily
    • 80% use them to take pictures
    • 64% share pictures with others
    • 60% listen to music
    • 46% play games
    • 32% swap videos
    • 23% access social networking sites

But before we are too frustrated with our children’s seemingly constant use of technology and blame it for the disconnect all to apparent in way too many families, consider the following data from the Barna Group

  • Parents are MORE likely than their teens to use their mobile devices regularly.
  • Parents watch just as much TV, movies & use the Internet as their kids daily.
  • 2/3 of parents think technology (cell phones, computers & video games) make family life better.
  • 1/3 of parents say they do not regularly take a break from technology.
  • 49% of parents worry that technology wastes their children’s time.
  • 21% of youth say parents have a double-standard regarding technology use.
  • 17% of youth say their parents bring their work home too much.
  • 39% of parents and 27% of tweens/teens say they’re frustrated that technology makes face-to-face conversations more difficult.

This research tells us that while teens/tweens spend a lot of time on their cell phones parents are equally guilty with regard to their use of technology. This research also illustrates that the Biblical instruction to “train a child in the way that he should go,” (Proverbs 22:6) most certainly now involves technology use not just in our children’s lives but in our own lives as well.

Modeling Technology

How can Christian parents model a balanced use of technology in a culture seemingly obsessed by and revolving around technology? Consider the following suggestions:

  1. 1105898_27026966Make face-to-face communication a priority. Since only about 10% of our communication happens with our words, a lot of communication fails to take place when limited to only words such as through text and email. Make a point to model effective communication in all your relationships, so your kids see you placing consistent value on it.
  2. Set technology boundaries. In a study by Psychology Today of 55 families, 1/3 of parents used mobile devices throughout a family meal, and 40% of parents ignored their children by focusing on their mobile devices leading to kids acting out to get parents’ attention. Start by banning mobile devices & television during meals, and consider creating regular breaks from technology.
  3. Remember that you can’t have rules without relationship. In other words, boundaries on technology or in any other area mean nothing when true relationship doesn’t exist. Get involved in your children’s lives. Instead of spending the entire track meet or baseball game on your phone, enjoy that moment in your child’s life. Instead of complaining about your kids always texting or playing video games, text them and play video games with them. The more consistent you are in developing and maintaining relationship, the less impact outside influences such as technology will have on the depth of those relationships.

For certain, there are a lot more ways we can model a balanced integration of technology into our lives. What are your suggestions?

Timing Matters

Timing 2Poor Timing

“Why doesn’t anyone listen to what I say?” My complaint probably sounded like a broken record to my husband. Frustration over someone failing to heed my advice resulted once again in stimulating this repeated source of relational frustration.

Then awareness hit me like a punch in the face. If multiple people from a variety of settings and types of relationships seem not to listen to me, perhaps the problem lies with me and not with others.

Some people (my husband) have a terrific sense of timing in conversations. Whether funny or serious, the flow seems as natural as breathing. Other people (myself), struggle finding the “right” words, which often (usually) come long after the conversation ends. And ill-timed humor only amplifies uncomfortable and awkward feelings.

For a while, past mistakes in conversations were just too painful to risk repeating. Additionally, extreme sensitivity created a constant awareness of every interruption, every misplaced comment and certainly every blank stare of confusion. So, to minimize these miscues in timing, I simply avoided face-to-face conversations.

As you might guess, avoiding talking to others is pretty impossible. Sure, I can do a lot of communicating via electronic methods, but they in no way substitute for the richness of connection made when talking to someone while at the same time experiencing the fullness of their presence.

Instead of allowing struggles with timing in conversations to suffocate relationships, either by lack of awareness or through over-sensitivity, a better approach involves taking time to increase understanding of timing in conversations. Perhaps in doing so, I can finally discover victory within this struggle.

Understanding Timing

Timing involves when something happens or is done (or said), especially when that timing is thought of as having a good or bad effect on the result. Timing also involves the ability to chose the best moment for some action, movement, words, etc.

Timing within conversations significantly impacts the success or failure of the contained communication. It also involves well-timed orchestration of the elements involved in successful communication.

Timing Awareness

As I thought about past failed communication, I realized that my poor timing had a huge impact. And that poor timing usually took place because one or more of the following were happening.

  1. Failing to fully listen because I’m thinking of what I want to say next.
  2. Getting distracted & being unable to hear what was being said.
  3. Talking before letting the other person finish talking.
  4. Focusing on giving advice rather than on understanding the person.
  5. Letting my emotions take over my flow of words.

Knowing that any one of these can knock the timing of a conversation off kilter, being aware of each conversation malady provides a first step for improving my timing when talking with others.

timingTiming Words

Poor timing with our words involves a myriad of factors. Poor social skills, loneliness and selfishness all impact a person’s timing when they talk to others. Being uninterested in others, having a lack of confidence and feeling intimidated can also impact how well we pace conversations.

Understanding that one or more factors may be at play in those to whom we are speaking helps in employing patience, but realizing theses issues may also exist within ourselves can help in making necessary adjustments for at least improving our end of the flow of communication.

Once awareness and understanding begin, we can then apply the following Biblical principles.

  1. Listen first and more. (Proverbs 18:13)
  2. Let relationships develop. (Proverbs 6:1-5)
  3. Use good sense. (Proverbs 11:12)
  4. Think first. (Proverbs 13:3 & 29:20)
  5. Use less words. (Proverbs 17:27-28)
  6. Be slow to speak. (James 1:19-20)

Notice that much of what Scripture reveals about timing involves not speaking but instead deliberately focusing on others in the conversation. Maybe this is because our words simply don’t matter when others don’t feel heard in a way that shows their value.

Focusing on understanding provides the key to proper timing in conversations. Sure, other people’s baggage impacts the conversation too, but your honing of timing certainly increases the probability of understanding and growth.

DISCUSSION: What impact has timing, or lack of it, had on your communication?

Tone Matters

Currently, my biggest struggle with tone of voice manifests through my youngest son. While my oldest son and my husband tend to focus more on words said and to give less credence to tone and body language than most people, my youngest soaks in my tone and often emulates it and my body language when talking to others.

My youngest son replaying my tone and body language feels strange but has increased my awareness of the impact of my tone of voice. This has led me to realize how much tone of voice not only impacts relationships but how it reflects the atmosphere that exists in the inner self.tone 2

The style or manner in which words are said make up a person’s tone of voice. Tone involves the delivery of words by expressing emotions and opinions. Tone determines perception also, such as whether an individual appears weak, confident, boring, etc..

Research reveals the significant impact of tone of voice by showing that 90% of our communication comes through nonverbal cues, including tone of voice. That means that the actual words said have only a 10% impact on our communication.

Not only is tone a powerful element in communication, it also presents an effective gauge of a person’s inner atmosphere. When we’re tired, frustrated, overwhelmed or have some other powerful emotion flowing through us, our tone often reveals that inner state. In fact, concealing that emotion usually becomes impossible for most people. And the better someone knows you, the harder hiding emotions in our tone becomes.

Tone 1

When I hear my boys talking (bickering) with each other, I’ll often remind one or both to “Watch your tone.” I do this because I know that a change in tone often results in a change in attitude of all parties involved. In fact, let’s go so far as to say that the words said mean little to nothing when the tone says something else or something more powerful.

With the significant impact of tone of voice in the forefront of our thoughts, consider the following truths about how we say what we say and how their application can change our relationships as well as the atmosphere of the inner self.

  1. Gentle words can disarm anger, resentment and vengeance. (Proverbs 15:1)
  2. Gentle words have healing powers. (Proverbs 15:4)
  3. A mind set on things above comes through in our attitude, which is reflected in our tone of voice. (Colossians 3:1-10)
  4. Tone that reflects truth promotes healthy communication, but tone driven by emotions leads to communication breakdown.
  5. Tone often says more about the speaker than it does about the situation or the receiver.

Sarcasm comes naturally for me, but it only lessens as I refuse to give it a regular voice in the world. The journey to this particular victory lives as a constant reminder of the power of tone of voice. Because sarcasm failed to encourage and thus went against God’s intention for my relationships, I am motivated to keep a tight reign on not just the words I say but how I say them as well.

Painful lessons regarding my tone of voice led me to realize that how I say something certainly impacts others, but at the root it really reveals what’s going on in my heart. So when I use a wrong tone, I first correct it if possible and then apologize for it when necessary. I also seek to pinpoint what’s going on within myself that led to a tone that was not only less than encouraging but that was actually only my emotions out of control.

When I change my tone, my inner attitude changes, and my emotions level out. I can also see the same happening with whomever I am communicating with at the time. In that, I witness the truth that words truly can heal or destroy (Proverbs 12:18) largely through the tone in which they are said.

DISCUSSION: What impact has tone of voice had in your communication?

For more details on this topic, check out the posts Thinking on Words and Words Matter.

Sunday Reflections – Understanding & Improving Our Communication

You cannot NOT communicate. You are always communicating something. I heard this in a college class almost 20 years ago, and it stuck with me. Unfortunately, most of us make too many assumptions and spend way too much time following those assumptions about others’ communication. We too often fail to pay enough attention, or any at all, to our own communication abilities.

Realizing this, you can deliberately choose to improve your communication skills. To start, consider these 7 Essential Elements of Communication to be aware of as we seek to improve our ability to communicate.

  1. We judge ourselves by our intentions. We can’t really know for sure the intentions of others. But when we’re honest with ourselves and with a lot of help from the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), we can better know our own intentions.
  2. We judge others by their actions. Since we can’t truly know another’s intentions, we usually base decisions about others on their actions. Maybe this is one reason showing faith by actions (James 2:18) is so crucial.
  3. People want validation & acceptance. We just want to be accepted and understood. This does not necessarily mean agreement with another’s opinions or actions, but it does mean a willingness to try to understand their perspective. Fortunately, when we fall short in this, God fills the gaps (John 6:37).
  4. Broad shoulders are invaluable. Having broad shoulders means not being offended easily and forgiving freely. Do You Have Broad Shoulders? Developing them improves your ability to communicate by removing the barriers of unforgiveness and misinformation.
  5. The Golden Rule is a terrific communication tool (Luke 6:31). Simply treating others how you want to be treated will improve communications in your relationships significantly.
  6. Seeking first to understand makes a huge difference. Before insisting on being understood, seek to understand others. Doing so not only improves communication, but it keeps you from looking foolish (Proverbs 18:2, 13).
  7. You can only change yourself. Replace old, ineffective habits with new habits that build relationships (Ephesians 4:22-24). Let your mind be renewed continually (Romans 12:1-2). Develop and grow the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

A look at improving our communication skills is lacking to some extent if we fail to focus at least a little on how we handle conflict. Conflict is not only necessary, but it is also unavoidable. Fortunately, conflict can actually strengthen instead of tear relationships apart if we employ point #7 above by specifically looking at our own part in any conflict (Romans 12:18). Do this using these 7 Questions to Ask During a Conflict.

  1. Am I jumping to conclusions?
  2. Am I being insensitive or too sensitive?
  3. Am I being selfish?
  4. Am I doing God’s job?
  5. Am I trying to control others?
  6. Am I communicating clearly?
  7. Could I be the one who is wrong?

Relationships are a top priority for God (Matthew 22:37-39), and fulfilling His command to love others requires good communication skills. What can you do this week to improve your ability to communicate with others?

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Could This Be Your Biggest Source of Irritation, Frustration and Even Anger?

My son’s final report card for the 5th grade had a mix of ME (meets expectations) and AE (approaching expectations) on it. Fortunately, there were no BE’s (below expectations). But clearly, expectations were set and hopefully well-communicated to the students. If nothing else, the idea that people expect things of them should be clear.

Go back 15ish years to a college class I took. For one assignment, the teacher asked for our expectations. Most students said they didn’t have any. At the end, when asked if their expectations were met, students said they either were or were not. The teacher then asked, “How can your expectations be met or not met if you didn’t have any?” I don’t remember any of the details of this assignment or even what class it was, but I remember this point about expectations. Expectations often operate unawares.

Now consider the business world. Anyone in sales knows that their business revolves around meeting customer expectations. As Curtis Fletcher says in Creating Customer Expecta…, every aspect of a business creates expectations, from the tag line, to the company name, to the web site. In other words, we have some control over the expectations of others. Some.

Before getting at why expectations could be the source of much stress or worse in our lives, let’s first understand some basic facts about expectations.

  1. Everyone has expectations.
  2. Expectations are often unknown.
  3. Expectations are not requirements.
  4. Expectations are not rights.
  5. Expectations set standards.

The problem with expectations comes when we treat the above facts as if they don’t exist, whether because we forget them or are ignorant of them. If we’re honest with ourselves, we constantly discover that the source of much irritation, frustration and anger comes when expectations that no one knew existed are not met. So at what point do expectations begin to create havoc in our lives? Expectations can become irritations, frustrations and anger when they are…

  1. Unmet
  2. Unrealistic
  3. Unfair
  4. Unset
  5. Unclear

… and we do nothing to understand the process our expectations go through. We simply let the resulting emotions (irritation, frustration and anger) bubble up without assessing from whence they came. In other words, we need to deliberately make a point to clarify expectations.

Expectations, especially when they are clear, can be very helpful in determining an individual or an organization’s course of action. Consider the following points to help clarify expectations in a way that can strengthen every relationship, whether with your spouse, kids, coworkers or customers.

  1. Understanding other people’s expectations takes work.
  2. Telling someone your expectations takes courage.
  3. Discussing expectations is often appropriate and necessary.
  4. Writing down expectations can help clarify them.
  5. Expectations are a part of every relationship.

There are two keys to not allowing expectations to degrade relationships, to lead to discouragement or depression, or to simply cause an all-around bad day. First, understand and communicate expectations, points that were essentially covered in the above tips. Second, having and constantly developing broad shoulders. Take the time to answer the question, “Do you have broad shoulders?” Understanding and focusing on both of these elements can go a long way in warding off the negative impact that expectations can cause if we let them… if we do nothing to understand them.

So what can we expect without fear of being wrong? We can expect disappointments as well as surprises. We can expect mistakes, failures and successes. We can expect the unexpected. And, we can expect our expectations as well as the expectations of others to be regularly unmet, unrealistic, unfair, unset and unclear. Why? Because we’re human.

DISCUSSION: What additional points do you have regarding expectations?

Note: Special thanks to Mark Allman for his contribution of many ideas for this post. You can read those ideas in his own words in the comment section of Happy Anniversary.

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