There is an old lesson that often reverberates through my head; one that says that when you are old and your kids are grown and out of the house, you aren’t going to remember how clean the bathroom was or that all the dishes were always washed and put away. You are going to remember the times you pushed that busy-work aside and instead danced and got silly together with your kids or sat and cuddled reading a book.
In today’s ever-plugged in society, I think of that lesson in terms of my cell phone. I remind myself that when I’m old, I won’t remember the Facebook posts I “liked” or the texts or emails I sent or answered. What I will remember are the times that I tucked the phone away just before school pickup and my 11-year-old son got into the car and shared with me about a new crush or told me every detail about that day’s dissection of a squid. I’ll remember the hours of basketball I played with my 6-year-old in the backyard and the post-game player “interviews” we did while my phone was set down inside and far away, unable to disturb us. I’ll remember connecting with my family face-to-face, and not the ringing, pinging and vibrating alerts of my phone.
And I’ll do this because of Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging, which is coming up again March 6-7, 2015, for its sixth year of observance – or celebration. The project is an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors and connect with loved ones.
I have to disclose here that I’m the spokesperson for the National Day of Unplugging. And I drank the Kool-Aid. But it tastes good! I recently ran a booth inviting families to make cell phone bags to stash away their digital devices. One dad said, “Oh wow, we really need this,” and turned to his daughter and asked, “Sweetheart, who is mommy’s best friend?” Without hesitation, the little girl, who was no older than five years old, answered, “Her phone.”
Now that’s a sour drink to swallow. I don’t want to be that mom. But I have been. If we are honest, most of us have at times. I just wish she had been around to hear it. I’d be happy to share some of the Kool-Aid.
Taking a Day of Rest
I’m Jewish but growing up my family had never celebrated Shabbat. So when I started to work for Reboot and got involved in the National Day of Unplugging, the concept of a day of rest was totally new to me. But as I began to work to get the message out that we need to be more mindful of our use of technology and the impact on those around us, I realized that I needed it! And this day of rest isn’t just for Jews. It’s for all of us. We’ve reached a tipping point in our use of digital devices.
What we are hoping comes out of the National Day of Unplugging isn’t necessarily that everyone unplugs for 24 hours once a week or even for the full 24 hours on that day. What we hope is that by hearing about this project people will take the time to pause and reflect on their use of digital devices, such as phones and computers.
We are definitely not anti-technology. We recognize the value and importance of technology in today’s world. The idea, really, is to take a pause from the technology that consumes our lives and reconnect with the people and community who are all around us but are lost in the noise of today’s relentless deluge of information.
And the impact is real. Experts in the area say that kids today feel second in importance to their digital devices.
Parenting experts warn that pervasive digital distractions are harming interpersonal relationships, hindering youth from developing face-to-face communication skills and parent behavior is teaching children that disappearing into digital devices for endless hours is an appropriate pastime.
Ignored by Parents
I met with a bunch of teenagers recently and one after another they said how ignored they felt by their parents because they were always on their digital devices. Teenagers?! They don’t even want their parents around all the time! Yet they weren’t getting enough face time.
“My mom, when she is on her phone (texting or emailing or on Facebook), she doesn’t even talk to me. I will try to talk to her about important stuff but she’s on her phone and she doesn’t even look up. It happens a lot,” said one teen.
“My dad will just ignore me when I’m trying to talk to him. I don’t think it is intentional. He will be on his email or on Facebook and there is just a big silence when I say something. I just get angry,” said another teen.
But even for me it’s not that it is easy to put that phone down. I’ll admit that when I’m playing basketball, I’m sometimes wondering what is going on with my phone. How is it feeling about being ignored? OK, I’m kidding about that, but certainly thoughts of the emails coming in or of texts I’m missing creep in even while I’m having the most fun. We are trained to respond immediately to every call of our phone. And it takes real effort and training – re-training really – to cut that cord.
But this is important. We are a generation of helicopter parents. We are always with our children, at the soccer practices and games, at the school performances, on the field trips. But if you watch, we aren’t actually present. We are on our phones. Everywhere.
Common Sense Media has a series of great videos rolling out now about being a role model in finding a healthy balance in the use of media and technology.
As smartphones invade our daily activities, parents are increasingly less present and available for their children. In a study released in 2014, researchers at Boston Medical Center observed 55 groups of parents and young children eating at fast food restaurants and found that 72 percent of caregivers pulled out a mobile device right away and mostly ignored the children throughout the meal.
What we are hoping comes out of the National Day of Unplugging isn’t necessarily that everyone unplugs for 24 hours once a week or even for the full 24 hours on that day. What we hope is that by taking the time to pause and reflect on their use of digital devices such as phones and computers, people will be more aware of the impact. We hope that from that new-found awareness, people will try to put their digital devices aside more regularly — for an hour, for the length of a family dinner or a romantic walk, for however long it takes to recharge themselves and to reconnect with those around them. It’s about balance.
So I’ve got some tips. This is how I weaned myself. And I’m still working on it. But I know it. Go ahead and call me out if you see me on my phone!
Discuss with family and friends how tech use impacts your time together.
You may be surprised by the conversation.
Set achievable goals.
Start by setting short periods when you will put your phone away regularly. This could be for the hour after school pickup or for a half hour of face-to-face time when your spouse or partner comes home from work. Or during a family dinner. Try increasing this over time. You might enjoy it!
So that your kids or partner don’t see the universal hand signal of “Just a minute” as the first thing when they get up, set your alarm five or 10 minutes ahead so that you have time to check your email quickly and put out any fires before you step outside your bedroom and say “Good morning!
Let people know you will be offline. Change expectations.
The Parenting Editor of Commonsense Media recently told a group of parents to let their teens tell their friends that they will be offline for the 45 minutes of dinner to ease their anxiety about unplugging. Do the same with your contacts when you unplug. Let your boss and other colleagues know that you will be unplugged in the evening or when you pick up the kids. Set new boundaries. Then they won’t expect you to respond immediately.
Make unplugging fun!
Email and text message are often misunderstood because you can’t see the person’s manner or body language. At dinner, send an “analog text” across the table by playing the old “Telephone game,” where someone whispers a message in a person’s ear and that person whispers in the next person’s ear and so on. Have the last person say the message out loud. This is a favorite in our house and gets a lot of laughs.
Have a member of the family hide the other persons’ tech devices until the end of the 24-hour period (or time period decided in advance). Play the hot and cold game to find the hidden digital devices at the end of the unplugging time.
Have an unplugged scavenger hunt. Hide alternative activities, such as board games, materials for a science project or a series of books, and create clues to find the alternative activities. Spend the afternoon playing together.
Eat one meal in silence and take turns expressing yourselves by making faces.
For more tips go to NationalDayOfUnplugging.com and download the family kit.
Tanya Schevitz is national communications manager for Reboot, an incubator of Jewish arts and culture. Reboot created the National Day of Unplugging, which runs from sundown Friday, March 6 to sundown, Saturday, March 7, 2015. Share what you do when you are unplugged by snapping an “I UNPLUG TO ____” photo. Upload it to www.NationalDayofUnplugging.com or post it to Facebook or Twitter with #unplug. Schevitz spent 16 years as a newspaper reporter, including 12 years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where she covered higher education.