Never underestimate the power of a determined mother. Or, in the case of Disconnect Collective, mothers. Aubri Almendariz and Monica Stapleton were both concerned about the impact of screen time and social media on their kids and wanted to make a difference within their community. With eight kids between them ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, they recognized the spectrum of issues that both kids and parents deal with when it comes to technology.
With complementary backgrounds — Almendariz holds a masters of education and Stapleton is a licensed marriage and family therapist — and a passion for the subject, they created the nonprofit Disconnect Collective as a way to centralize information about kids and tech use, while also creating resources for community involvement and unplugged activity. “Goal number one is informing each other,” says Almendariz. “One thing that tech serves well is that share of information, so let’s use it! We’re not saying technology is bad. We recognize that we live in a society that begs us and requires us to be on our phones. What we’re saying is let’s go back to one of the oldest things in the book, which is everything in moderation.”
Stapleton points out a staggering increase in ADHD diagnoses — roughly 50 percent over the last decade, with a predicted rise of 5 percent per year — and stresses the impact of tech use. “It’s fragmenting our attention span and making it more difficult for us to concentrate on long-term tasks,” she says. Almendariz says tech use even changes how and what we learn and remember. “When our kids test on a screen, there’s no muscle memory associated with a finger tap to a screen, whereas when you write something out, the brain becomes actively engaged. It helps tie that information into long-term memory,” she says.
The organization coordinates local events where kids can, as they put it, “Plug into something better.” These events partner local groups and other nonprofits with the collective to create alternatives to screen time and, equally importantly, seek intrinsic motivation versus the external validation that comes from social media. “Rather than just talking about the dangers, it’s getting out and seeking that community, learning about things that are affecting the world around us,” says Stapleton.
Stapleton is currently seeking grants to enable them to expand their offering. Ultimately, they’d like to create programs to partner with schools as well as a curriculum to provide tools for parents. They hope to inspire additional collectives elsewhere that can serve their own areas so it retains its community-based emphasis.
“We have a new addiction. I have a license to deal with this. I can’t not do anything anymore,” says Stapleton. “At the end of the day, our children are going to see that their parents did something tangible to help with this epidemic.” disconnectcollective.com