Screen Free: Why Your Family Should Put Down the Devices for a Tech Timeout
Smartphones, laptops and tablets have become the remote controls for our lives. Just look at how texting, video chat and social media have made constant, real-time communication a reality.
Our kids have grown up in this (so-called) wireless world and it’s a common sight to see them using these devices throughout their day. And by using these devices, I mean burying their faces in a screen, seemingly oblivious to anyone around them.
A Growing Concern
Every generation of parents worries, sometimes unnecessarily, about the impact of progress. But according to The American Academy of Pediatrics, excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.
Part of the issue is how accessible mobile devices are to kids. Common Sense Media reports that 72 percent of children under age eight and 38 percent of kids under two years old use a mobile device to play games and use apps. This fact, combined with a 2010 study finding that the average child spends from eight to 11 hours in front of a screen, more than justifies our concerns. And it’s fueling a movement to help parents stay connected to their kids by disconnecting from their devices through regularly scheduled timeouts from technology.
“72 percent of children under age eight and 38 percent of kids under two years old use a mobile device.”
A Range of Options
There are several programs designed to help families unplug from devices and reconnect to each other. The one thing they all share? A temporary break from technology instead of an unrealistic attempt to walk away from it altogether. Discover some tech timeout options below, ranked from annual to more regular commitments.
Once a Year: National Day of Unplugging
Even one day a year can help get you started working toward more frequent tech timeouts. The National Day of Unplugging is from sundown of May 6 to sundown May 7. It may raise awareness of the issue more than really impacting it, but even 24 tech-free hours can be challenging for some. Luckily, the site offers unplugging tips for families to help them through the day.
One Week a Year: Screen-Free Week
Screen-Free Week takes place May 4-10 in hopes that everyone “will rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen.” The site also offers plenty of resources to get organized for the seven-day technology fast.
Tip: More and more schools are observing this week-long exercise, offering incentives to students that stick to their tech time-out. They may help convince your family to take the plunge.
One Day a Week: Tech-Free Tuesday
Tech-Free Tuesday is a regional event that helps families unplug and reconnect, but anyone can tap into the site’s resources and plan a tech-free day of the week for their family.
One Hour…Every Night: Go Dark for Dinner
Keep technology out of mealtime and preserve the family dinner tradition. Even President Obama has banned devices at his family’s dinner table. The site notes that dinner is “one of the few chances we get to truly connect with the people we care about.” It even offers conversation starters to help keep your family engaged.
Mom Unplugs & Lives to Tell the Tale
Still thinking a tech-time out sounds great, but will be tough to make happen? We spoke with radio personality Laura Powell, a mom of two who participates in Tech-Free Tuesday, to learn how she approaches the weekly event.
Q: How do you disconnect with your kids?
A: I have two boys, ages 9 and 11, and my best strategy is to not let them know we’re unplugging. I come home and just start asking questions about their day. Then, I start poking fun at them about how I can beat them at Uno or Connect Four. AND IT’S ON!
Q: What did your kids say, how did they respond, when you first told them the family was doing this?
A: I never came out and told them this was happening. I just started playing with them instead of just asking them what they were doing. If they were playing a board game, I would jump in. By not making a big deal about it, it was easier with the kids than I had anticipated.
Q: Why did you decide to do this with your kids?
A: The chances I get to eat dinner with my kids and just talk are priceless. I wanted to keep up that tradition, and let them know that I will be there to talk to no matter when, where or why. My parents were the same way with me.
Q: What have the pros and cons been in doing this?
A: The pros are the lessons you will learn. Your kids are experiencing everything for the first time. It’s a gift to take that journey with them. The cons can be the first few times you try this. It may not last long at first, but don’t give up. Adults are more stubborn than kids about this movement.
“Spending time with my kids and talking about life, one-on-one, can nourish their souls.”
Q: Would you suggest other families do this?
A: ABSOLUTELY! I think staring at screens instead of our loved ones has hurt us considerably. I get the need for social media, but it can change us into people we may not want to be. Spending time with my kids and talking about life, one-on-one, can nourish their souls.
Q: What would you say to a family that thinks it will be too much trouble to disconnect or their kids will give them too hard of a time to bother?
A: I would say start with laughter. I have actually danced in front of the TV until my kids gave in and laughed nonstop. This is not “work.” You will re-learn the fun side of you—the playful side of you. Make it fun.
Q: How does Tech-Free Tuesday work for you and your family?
A: Tuesday is a pretty good TV night, so we usually make Wednesday nights tech-free. We sometimes use our weekends as well. We try to keep it casual, and some nights we just cuddle up on the sofa and talk about teachers, school and who is making popcorn before bed.
It looks like the key to making tech-free nights happen is to make them fun. In addition to the sites above, there are plenty of resources available to help your family unplug, be present and grow closer as a result. The key is choosing an approach that fits your family and then start (un)plugging away.