How can I guard against the danger of online social networking taking up too much of my time and negatively impacting my marriage? When I first started using sites like Facebook I thought they were a great way to keep in touch with family and friends. But now it seems we're on the verge of allowing this kind of activity to rule our lives. Any advice?
The basic issue we face in relation to almost any form of technology is the issue of control. Is technology a tool-something that makes it easier to accomplish our goals and achieve our purposes? Or is it rather our master? These are questions we all need to be asking ourselves in this age of unprecedented technical advancement.
The solution to your dilemma is simple: you need to take control. We'd suggest that you can start moving in this direction by drawing up a household "mission statement" to govern your use of social media. Ask yourself: " Why do I want to be involved with social media? What am I hoping to accomplish by way of Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn?" Sit down and hash these questions out with your spouse. Put your answers down in writing. Then post them on your refrigerator and make up your minds to put them into effect.
You've indicated that in the beginning you saw Facebook as a "great way to keep in touch with family and friends." There's no reason in the world why it can't continue to function this way. If the situation has changed, you can change it back again. All you have to do is clarify your objectives. State them plainly in your "mission statement." For example: "My goal is to use Facebook to stay in touch with mom and dad, my sister Jan, Aunt Ellen, my cousin Frank, and Bob and Jean." If you get "friend" requests from people outside this circle, remember that there's no law that says you have to accept them. You can even enact the site's limitation features to block unwanted searches and keep yourself "invisible" to the larger Facebook community.
Remember, you are in the driver's seat. If online social networking is threatening to dominate your existence, maybe it's time you started giving yourself permission to say "no." If this doesn't come easy to you, stop and think about why this might be the case. Beware of finding personal worth and affirmation in the tally of your Facebook "friends." Don't allow yourself to give into subtle pressure to engage socially with groups or individuals who don't fit your "mission statement." Be willing to say "enough is enough" and to stick with your decision.
There are also some practical measures you can implement to limit the amount of time you're spending with social media. One of them has to do with the number of devices you're using to access your account. Individuals who lack discipline may end up wasting a lot of time online if they're set up to access Facebook via phone, laptop, and iPad, as well as on a home computer. On the other hand, more effective time managers may actually save time by using a smart phone to log on during less-intrusive moments, such as while sitting in the doctor's waiting room. The key is to use the devices to serve your purposes and strategies rather than allowing them to dominate you.
You should also give yourself permission to leave behind your hand-held devices while you're out doing more important things-for example, enjoying a dinner date with your spouse or taking the kids to the zoo. This is just another way of affirming the value of real-life activities and relationships and asserting your personal independence from the tyranny of technology. It's also possible to downgrade devices in order to rid yourself of temptations and liabilities. You can even make up your mind to take a vacation from computers and social media at certain designated times and seasons. Some families have found it helpful to have a "Sabbath Box" where phones and iPads can be laid aside voluntarily as a way of "disconnecting" for a while. You can probably come up with additional strategies of your own. If some of these ideas sound a bit too "radical" or "counter-cultural" for your tastes, just remember that we're recommending them for a reason-to empower you to regain control of your own life. In every case, the choice is yours to make, and you are entirely free to make it.
If you have further questions or think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our staff, we'd like to invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling Department. Our trained counselors will be happy to help you in any way they can. You can reach one of them for a free consultation Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). The Family Help Center staff member who answers the phone will arrange for a licensed counselor to call you back. One of them will be in touch just as soon as they're able.
Making Marriage Work in a Social Media World (broadcast)
Unfriend Yourself (book)
Covenant Eyes - Provider of Internet accountability and filtering services.