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Bow Valley trying to tackle excessive screen time with new Disconnect Challenge

“Everything we’re learning shows that the more time we spend on our phones, the more it’s impacting our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Our phones have the capacity to connect us with friends and family around the world but the challenge is using technology mindfully.”
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The Disconnect Challenge box. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – As our forms of communication become increasingly technology based, some groups in the valley are encouraging residents to put the screens away – at least for a little while.

Partners from across the valley, including the Town of Banff and the Town of Canmore, are joining together in the Bow Valley Disconnect Challenge, an initiative that encourages individuals to put all their screens into a box for a few hours a day.

“There has been a focus over the last couple of years around how much time students spend on their phones and the negative impacts that can have. This led to both Banff Elementary and Lawrence Grassi School implementing a no-phone policy during the school day. But we adults need to do some work on this as well – after all, we’re role models for these kids in our communities,” wrote Colin Harris, Banff’s recreation initiatives coordinator, in an email.

“It seems like it’s become our default setting to pull our phones out, whether we’re in line at the grocery store, having dinner, or just simply bored. This Disconnect Challenge is one small way of trying to get us to think about how much we use our phones and how important it can be to put it away at times.”

Harris said partners from the Town of Banff, Town of Canmore, Bow Valley Parent Link, Right From the Start, Alberta Health Services, Canadian Rockies Public School, Bow Valley Early Childhood Development Coalition, Canmore Young Adult Network and BanffLife came together to discuss what they could do as a community to encourage less screen time.

“That’s how the Disconnect Challenge idea came about,” he said.

“Everything we’re learning shows that the more time we spend on our phones, the more it’s impacting our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Our phones have the capacity to connect us with friends and family around the world, but the challenge is using technology mindfully.”

The challenge itself calls for those who participate to commit to certain times within the day where they place all their screens into a special box made specifically for the challenge. 

Harris said the challenge doesn’t have strict rules, or even really a date set for the ending.

“The challenge is for anyone and everyone in the Bow Valley. We have Disconnect boxes that look like the Timbit boxes you get from Tim Horton’s,” he said.

“The basic idea is that everyone who has a phone commits to certain times when those phones go in the box so that we’re physically detached from them – we don’t feel them buzz in our pocket and they’re out of sight. There are no strict rules to this challenge – we’re simply trying to give all of us a reminder to be mindful of when and where we’re using our phones. There is no official end date to the challenge, but several weeks after you pick up a box, you’ll be emailed a short survey link and this will give people an opportunity to tell us how the challenge went and win some great prizes.”

The challenge itself has come after conversation has increased around screen time and mental health issues. A study done by Harvard University in June found that screen time could interfere with everything from sleep to creativity. 

It’s only one of many studies done in the last few years on how the human brain at different developmental stages interacts with technology – studies that Harris said influenced the decision to try the Disconnect Challenge.

“Recent research showing that excessive screen time can lead to developmental delays in children is important to factor into decisions around disconnecting as a family. It can be tough for families – phones can end up coming out at the dinner table for example, and what should be a space to really connect through conversation becomes a quiet meal with heads in phones,” he said.

“So an attempt to create areas and times, especially at home, where devices aren’t allowed is key. The dinner table and then the bedroom are two of those main areas, especially when it’s bedtime. Kids and adults who have phones in the bedroom can easily be distracted by notifications and the blue light of the screen. We’re all getting worse sleeps since we brought phones into the bedroom. It may not seem to have much impact in the short term, but it really does affect our physical and mental health – proper sleep is so important.

“And again, this isn’t just for the benefit of the kids – we have chatted with numerous students who say that their parents have a hard time putting down their phones as well.”

To participate in the Bow Valley Disconnect Challenge, boxes can be picked up from the Town of Banff, Town of Canmore, Parent Link, Banff Life and CYAN pasta nights. 

Visit Banff.ca/disconnect or Canmore.ca/disconnect for more information.


About the Author: Alana MacLeod

Alana MacLeod is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Previously, she worked for Global News Toronto as a news producer and writer. Follow her on Twitter: @Lans_macleod
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