I wanted to call this post Why Conscious Unplugging is Better than Pulling the Plug Cold-Turkey Style because we all feel the pull of the screens on our digital devices and know we should unplug, especially today since we’re right smack in the middle of Screen Free Week. But having a designated week that is even more guilt inducing doesn’t help us have a healthy relationship with technology. The notion of divorcing our screens is downright terrifying for some so instead of going on a digital detox, use this week to talk to your family as you take baby steps towards unplugging.
I applaud the efforts by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood whose Screen Free Week is designed to be an “international celebration where children, families, schools, and communities spend seven days turning off digital entertainment and turning on life.” As parents we know our “children are spending way too much time with screens” without the help of statistics. We don’t need numbers to show us what we’re experiencing in our own homes and I don’t need to lecture you because you’re the ones telling me “The only thing my son wants to do on playdates with friends is play video games,” sharing “My child asked for a cell phone because all their friends have one,” or asking “How do I get my kid to STOP playing Minecraft?”
Screens are something we grapple with because they’re such a big part of our culture. We use them . Our kids want them. They clamor to use them because they see how important they are to us. (And really, they want to be just. like. us.)
While the numbers are staggering and make us pause, being completely screen free can be hard. Instead of pulling the plug for a week of digital detox, I think our relationships with technology would be better if we spend part of the week being more mindful about our use of screens and talking to our kids about what this means. Working together to consciously unplug goes a long way towards healthier relationships with technology that simply cutting the cord.
At the ages of 10 and 7, my children have certain components of homework that require the use of the computer. Fellow parents rely on text messaging to keep in touch with their kids about after school activities and schedules. Kids with mobile devices use them to collaborate on school projects beyond the school day while also socializing with friends. New cars prominently feature touch screens as the command center for the vehicle entertainment system. Our family even operates our home security system through a touch interface!
Screens are everywhere so it’s not always realistic for us to unplug during Screen Free Week although we can be more mindful. Little changes are possible. Unplugging suddenly and without talking about it, or doing it just because it’s Screen Free Week, isn’t realistic or healthy.
Instead of being completely screen free, think about your uses of screens in your life and the things you’d like to do instead of being connected. Maybe you’d like to get outside, read, daydream, create, explore, play with family, or go out with friends. Whatever your goal is, Janell Burley Hoffman, author of iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing Up, believes “building a healthy relationship with technology has become a critical piece of raising the modern family.”
In order to build relationships with technology, Janell encourages families to talk because conversations are helpful for teaching and understanding “family values and intentions, perspectives, overcome obstacles and conflict, and grow as a family” I’m a big proponent of talking early and talking often about all topics in our home to let our kids know that we’re building a foundation of trust so they can always come to us with questions and concerns as we our celebrate successes together. We discuss topics like underage drinking, the pros and cons for my daughter’s 10 year classmates having their own.
But in talking to other parents, I know that starting conversations about hard topics like unplugging isn’t easy, especially with kids as they get past the tweens and into their tweens. Mobile devices are social lifelines for teens but Janell believes it’s not impossible to have these conversations and offers the following ten questions and methods designed to lay a foundation for a better relationship with your devices in honor of healthy tech living.
Know your family!
Think about each child individually as a student, friend, and family citizen. What’s their temperament and tendencies? Knowing our children help nurture healthy tech habits.
Take a tech inventory.
Ask your child what accounts they have. What’s their favorite way to use the technology? What could they live without? This builds understanding. Share your favorite tech too!
Allowing a new device, game or social network account for your child? Take the slow road.
Talk about it first. Questions like “Why do you want it? How will you use it?” helps get perspective and set expectations.
Think about your family’s beliefs and systems away from the technology.
If they’re working for you, apply those same values to the technology. If their not so defined, rethink and rebuild! Know what is important to you.
What isn’t working?
Is the technology invading sleep or family time? Sit down to talk about it. Listen to all points of view and then reset boundaries so that technology doesn’t invade and annoy.
Practice what you preach!
Assess your own tech habits and model what you’d like to see from your children and teens.
Go tech free!
Head to the beach, the woods, for a walk around the block, or a ride in the car without technology. Encourage the whole family to leave devices behind sometimes.
Designate “No Phone Zones” or device free areas of the house or times of day.
Meal time, bedtime, or family time is a great place to unplug. Introduce a chair or area of the house that is free from technology. Have the entire family participate in establishing these sacred spaces and times.
Try “tell me about it” instead of “show me”.
Resist the urge to search or show everything online when there is an opportunity for an in person conversation.
Build a bridge!
How can technology strengthen the parent child relationship? Think about your shared interests — music, art, comedy, books, movies, sports — and allow the technology to be a positive piece of that connection
And don’t feel like you have to do all 10! It’s far more realistic to pick and choose the methods and questions that work best for your family.
Best of luck as you attempt to make strides to unplug a little more each day!
No compensation was received for this post. I have not read Janelle’s iRules book and received information from her and CCFC that inspired this post. First two images courtesy DeathtotheStockPhoto.com.