It All Starts With A Social Dilemma | Janell Burley Hofmann | 4 Min Read

Republished from July 21, 2021 and originally published on Medium.

This week, in the middle of election debate season, tangible climate crisis, pandemic return to school and continued racial and societal injustices, our family decided to watch Netflix’s, The Social Dilemma. I knew it was tough timing. We’ve recently been engaged with our media — personal, professional and educational — in a way that feels like our all time peak use. But, in different online parent groups I saw the documentary trending and because of my career as an author and speaker on Digital Health and Well-Being for families, I knew we had to make some space for it.

My husband and I, and three of our five screen loving children, ages 12, 14 and 16, settled in after dinner and homework to watch. We took a break about forty five minutes into the documentary to debrief, ask questions, offer pushback and share our feelings. Then, when the film was complete, since we were all a little tense and torn about our love of screens, we agreed to go our separate ways and revisit the conversation another day.

Now, a few days and a few hard discussions out from our original viewing, I feel less interested in commenting on the movie itself, but instead, want to reflect on what happens to families — often including my own and those I work with — when we take in an intense amount of content that threatens or confronts something we do regularly or have allowed to be part of family life. I see this happen with particular intensity around screens.

We feel bad. We feel overwhelmed. We feel paralyzed to make decisions or changes. We feel shame and confusion. We hide. Our kids know this about us. They know we feel guilt about screens. They know we love our screens just as much as they do. But we blame everything — especially when it’s convenient to our narrative of need, our discomfort, even our outrage — on screens. This makes them want to protect their life online. What they see and do goes underground. It becomes secretive. We stop normalizing use and our kids start to internalize it as an activity that is bad. Because the adults don’t always know what to say and do as we raise the first full digital generation, we are defensive and afraid.…

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Janell Burley Hofmann

Janell Burley Hofmann is an international author, speaker and consultant specializing on the topics of technology, media, health, relationships and well-being. Janell is the creator of the original iPhone contract and a thought leader in the space of digital mindfulness, digital parenting and intentional use of tech. She is the author of the book, iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing Up published by Rodale, Inc. Janell is the founder of the Slow Tech Movement and iRules Academy. Janell has worked on four continents across diverse demographics, cultures, religions, and socioeconomics. Sensitive to the needs of each community, Janell works with schools, youth, families, educators, and organizations while offering private coaching and consulting sessions. Janell’s professional expertise and personal experience as a mother of five children builds strong connections with a wide and varied population. Janell engages readers, clients and audiences in relevant and meaningful conversations igniting personal empowerment, awareness and purpose in a partnership that will positively impact all. Janell’s academic background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Media Studies, a Master’s Degree in Critical and Creative Thinking and she is currently working towards her licensure in mental health counseling. Her featured talks include two-time TEDx presenter, SxSW, YPO Southeast Asia Summit, Peace Corp Workshop Leader, Homecoming Day Nagoya University, Nagoya Japan, YPO Middle East Tour, Women2Women International Summit and MIT Strata Center. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Good Morning America, USA Today, National Public Radio, BBC News and The Associated Press.