Unplugging Your Family

A recent Associated Press article titled “What happens when mom unplugs teens for 6 months?” explores how to ween those who are immersed in technology onto more classical pursuits. The article tells the story of how Susan Maushart got her 14-, 15-, and 18-year-old children to give up television, internet, cell phones, and video games while in the house. There was some friction, as her youngest daughter chose to move out rather than stay under the restrictions, but the experiment yielded some very interesting results as well.

Not only did her children’s grades improve, but they also took up new constructive pursuits—her 15-year-old son Bill started playing the saxophone—and discovered that unplugging periodically wasn’t the end of the world. The youngest generation takes technology like Wi-Fi, texting, and cable television for granted. If they don’t get used to living without technology, periodically, they can actually be unable to live without it. Maushart’s experiment shows that a little technology “vacation” will help young people get in touch with their real selves.

Separating from technology for six months isn’t a realistic option for most people, so here are some tips for healthy boundaries for you and your family:

  • Make one night a week “Unplugged Night.” Turn off cell phones, Wi-Fi, computers, the television, and video games from 5pm Sunday nights until 7am Monday morning. Use this time to read, listen to music together, play board games, or go for walks.
  • The rest of the week, try to unplug periodically to spend time on other things. Set a limit of an hour or two on Facebook or other social media sites, and spend the rest of the time working on more low-tech endeavors.
  • Enforce restrictions liberally. Don’t be afraid to say “You’ve been in your chat room for too long tonight.” If you feel like your child is crossing the line into addiction, don’t hesitate to step in.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of these restrictions. Saying “You are only allowed one hour of Twitter time per night” will sound like a draconian restriction. Instead, encourage the better uses of time, like reading, studying, practicing a musical instrument, or spending time with the family.

The book Kids, Parents, and Technology: A Guide for Young Families by Dr. Eitan Schwarz is another excellent guide to setting boundaries and using technology to your advantage as a family.

There’s nothing wrong with social media in moderation, but too much too quickly can be habit-forming and actually stunt growth. Foster ways to encourage your family to focus on diverse activities that foster development and a well-rounded life.

What are your thoughts?


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