How No Device Changed My Life

Photo of a teen girl looking at her iPhone unhappily

If you happened to read my last blog, “Be A Giver, Not A Taker”, you’d notice it was focused on the idea of giving our time and energy to a need and I stepped onto what I would describe as “thin ice.” I made a bold statement about how much screen time is distracting our youth, but also adults, and in my opinion, “wasting valuable time” that could be better utilized on helping in our communities. I could also suggest the over 124 collective days a year staring at a screen could be better used for self-improvement to help all of us… Step Into Your GreatnessTM!

So, that blog seemed weirdly prophetic when recently, the Government of the Province of Alberta, where we happen to live, made a stunning announcement that all cell phones, and the likes, will be banned from use in the classroom for K-12 students beginning in September. Wow!

This presents a couple of divisions in our society. One is clearly generational as the obvious target are young people. The other is yet another serious problem for people who hate being told what they can and cannot do by government!

But I want to focus on why I support this move and its squarely centered on mental health. I want to remind everyone that I have been a regular guest speaker at literally thousands of schools across primarily North America, so I’m not just a casual observer. Unlike some people my age, you’ll never hear me say: “These kids nowadays!” In fact, it’s really kids that changed my career from a disc jockey to professional speaker way back in 1981.

It’s pretty common knowledge that 1981 was the International Year for Disabled Persons and I was given an opportunity to travel to schools in, ironically, Alberta. I left my successful short-term career as a disc jockey for what I assumed would be a one year hiatus, but here I am, still occasionally speaking in schools.

Over 43 years, I’ve witnessed a shift in our youth, and I will again acknowledge I’m over 60 years old which obviously affects my perspective. Someone challenged me recently asking a weird question: “How would my life be if I had social media when I was an adolescent?”

Of course, that’s impossible to know! But I got the point.

My guess is I would have become just as addicted as so many of our youth are today, and without melodrama, governments all over the world are calling it “addiction.”

That’s why I titled this blog “How No Device Changed My Life.” Instead of countless hours staring at a machine, I played music. First, trombone, then drums, and then piano. By the way, I’m not very good at piano, but I can spend hours just making my own music. I haven’t played the trombone much in years. I try and play my drums as often as I can, and you don’t get to be a Professional Member of the Global Ludwig Percussion family out of sympathy! Playing a concert in Tokyo in 2022, where the headliner was Katy Perry should speak for itself and I’m not simply boasting.

One of my favourite drummers is Neil Peart of the Canadian band, Rush. In their documentary, “Beyond The Lighted Stage,” Peart speaks of being a geeky teenager trying to fit in and drums became his “instrument of self-esteem.” I can completely relate. It took a while to be comfortable in my body and music was the key. I always like to say: “Musicians don’t care what you look like. They want to know if you can play!” I love saying… “Yes, I Can.”

Sorry to be so “me minded”, but one more really stark truth. Some of the social media under the microscope are ones that make kids feel the pressure of not being perfect. Body shaming is pervasive and disturbing.

May I be very blunt? I have an imperfect body and it took me years to gain the confidence to even take my shirt off in a public pool or beach. I was 30 years old when I met my wife and business partner, Darlene. She is the reason I don’t care what people think when they see me on a beach in nothing but a bathing suit.

She loves me for me, and that includes an imperfect body. If only social media could build kids up instead of tear them down, maybe they could live with less stress, anxiety, and depression.

Nobody deserves that! And what’s even worse is ageism. I hope my age doesn’t skew my point!

When I was a kid, I had a typical early bedtime. I vividly remember falling asleep almost instantly, getting a full eight hours of rest and literally jumping out of bed early in the morning to have breakfast with my Dad who was up every day at 6am. I was never grouchy, argumentative, and difficult. And I wasn’t the only one.

Today, I hear countless stories of teens getting four hours of sleep a night because they are allowed to have their phone by their bed and notifications turned on. They are so obsessed with the “Fear Of Missing Out” or “FOMO,” they never get to a deep REM sleep; therefore, they struggle with keeping attention during the school day. Am I crazy, or is school slightly more important than TikTok?

A complete ban may not be the best strategy, but we must do something, don’t we? Our youth are too valuable to allow them to fall down the rabbit hole that is leading to horrible mental health. Of course, the elephant in the room are parents, right? No offence folks, but how much are your own habits affecting this topic?

A friend was telling me she was shocked to go to her daughter’s gymnastics class and so many parents were staring at their devices rather than watching their kids in class. What does that say? I need to add that social media itself isn’t all bad. It should be about moderation at home. As for their education, someone needs to be the boss and assert a policy that may not be popular, but absolutely in the best interest for our kids.

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