How I’m going to help my entire family unplug more this summer – starting with me.
As a parent, I’m worried about how much time my kids are spending staring at screens. Of course, I’m not alone. According to a recent study from Common Sense Media, 77% of parents feel their teens get distracted by devices and don’t pay attention when their families are together.
That stat may not surprise you, but here’s one that might: according to that same study, 41% of teens feel their parents get distracted by devices and don’t pay attention when their families are together.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to lecture you about how I think technology is “bad” because I don’t. But my entire family is simply plugged in too much (OK fine, including Mom and Dad). TVs, tablets, smartphones, computers and on and on. And I know that when my kids are treated to long days with no school, the temptation to waste away those long summer days is stronger than ever for every member of our family.
This summer, I’m going to help my entire family unplug and I know just where to start: with me.
STEP 1: PLAN AHEAD
I don’t want to start with me. It would be so much easier to just tell my kids: “Turn off those devices!” But then I realize that in my home, a culture of staring at screens didn’t develop suddenly. These habits and behaviors have been cultivated and nurtured over time.
I know that If I’m going to get serious about helping my kids unplug this summer, I can’t plan for it to be easy and I can’t plan for it to happen overnight, but I can create a plan that’s realistic for all of us. After all, we’re all in this together!
STEP 2: GET MY SPOUSE ON BOARD
That’s right. There’s not going to be any playing-Dad-against-Mom when it comes to our family’s screens this summer. We’re all in this together!
STEP 3: WORK WITH MY KIDS
To my kids, creating a realistic plan to help my family unplug can sound an awful lot like: “I’m going to take away something that you love.” So I’m going to make sure my kids know better. That’s why we started with a family meeting that gave us a chance to make one thing crystal clear: this is not punishment.
Nobody’s done anything wrong. Mom and Dad aren’t trying to take away anything. We all love spending time with technology, even Mom and Dad (especially Mom and Dad!). We simply want to help our entire family get more: out of summer, out of life, out of each other.
This family meeting was also a great opportunity to involve our kids in the plan. We asked each of our children what types of technology they enjoy the most. That way, our family could customize our plan together and ensure a way for everyone to still do the things they want to do. We’re all in this together!
STEP 4: LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Have I mentioned that staring at screens is as much a temptation for me as it is my kids? It’s up to parents to lead by example and if I tell my daughter to turn off her tablet while I’m staring at my phone, what kind of message am I sending?
By making our plan together, we all agree to support each other in our efforts to unplug, and that includes accountability. We’re all in this together!
STEP 5: DON’T JUST UNPLUG— CONNECT!
Here’s where the fun begins. If I’m going to expect my kids to stay off their screens, they’re going to need other things to do. Fun things to do. And I’ve always loved other, fun things to do, like listening to music, starting new projects and playing games. And I mean real games: the kind where your family looks at each other, talks with each other, and maybe even laughs with each other. You know, like they did in olden times.
It’s all about considering what type of fun your family likes to have and what kind of memories you want to make. And, of course, being ready to provide fun and interactive ways to make it happen, from simple indoor games and outdoor activities to excursions and vacations.
STEP 6: BE MINDFUL AND DON’T GIVE IN
Like anything worth doing, unplugging my family is going to be a challenge.
Can I expect pushback? Absolutely. Tears? Possibly. Will I have to listen to my children complain? I have two ears, don’t I? But I’m not going to give in and I’m not going to give up because I know that just one lapse might be enough to convince my kids that we’re not really serious about this after all.
Of course, stuff happens, and I know I’m going to be faced with many moments of weakness, all summer long. But instead of collapsing under the pressure by plugging back in, I will be mindful in those moments, approaching each one as an opportunity to connect with my children and help them understand what it feels like to plug back into life.
Oh…you say you have nothing to do? Let’s build a fort! Bake some cookies! Play a game! Go for a walk! Dress up in goofy outfits and take pictures! Hey, have you read this book? You know what I loved doing when I was your age? Invite your friend over! Better yet, let’s see if we can swim in your friend’s pool!
STEP 7: ENCOURAGE, INCENTIVIZE, REWARD
Remember, this is supposed to be fun, and that’s easy to forget when everyone is suffering through technology withdrawal. But I’ve seen for myself that my kids are more present, more engaged, and more mindful when the screens are turned off (hey, just like Mom!) and I believe that both the journey and destination will be well worth it.
If my husband and I can help our kids understand for themselves just how great it feels to experience life in good old-fashioned reality (even just for one extra moment), I’ll consider this entire experiment an unqualified success. Besides, I know that if my kids don’t practice unplugging now, they may be even less inclined to try it on their own in the future.
So along with constantly reminding our children of how grateful we are for their efforts (and that we’re all in this together, naturally), my husband and I are establishing realistic ways to incentivize and reward them, including…
STEP 8: TELL MY KIDS TO PLUG BACK IN
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is not punishment. This is an opportunity for our entire family to practice technology on our own terms, in more balanced, mindful, and healthy ways.
What better way to prove to my kids that we’re on their side than by allowing and even encouraging screen time? Structured, approved, mindful screen time.
Let’s not forget, we live in a digital world and technology is advancing faster than ever. Since we can’t fight the future, my husband and I are going to win the war at home, equipping our kids with the wisdom, experience, and support they’ll need to navigate technology their entire lives.
At least, that’s the plan, and we’re all in this together!
Guest Columnist: Lisa Valentine Clark
Lisa is a UCCU member, Utah Valley mom, and author of Real Moms: Making It Up As We Go. Check out her Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/yourfunnyvalentine/