For students, summertime is a break. A break from schoolwork, from alarm clocks, from overly-structured lives. But a break from technology? That can be even more daunting than it sounds.
Could your child – or the students in your class – go without their cell phone for a week? How about a day? An hour? If they did, would they benefit? Would the benefits outweigh the suffering and anguish?
Benefits of Unplugging
Although the benefits of technology are obvious, few would deny that it is also a major distraction. How often do we complete a compelling conversation without interruption from our phones? Our devices are also crutches – excuses for not exercising or accomplishing or engaging in face-to-face interaction.
Some psychologists fear that devices like cell phones have actually become a teen addiction, with serious effects such as:
- Decreased brain connectivity, impacting emotions, decision-making, and impulse-control
- Increased chance of alcohol or tobacco use
- Poor dietary habits
- Greater degree of loneliness
Completely taking away a teen’s technology could even lead to more resourceful ways for them to use the technology around us. We don’t just have smartphones or Play Stations that tie us to the outside world. Kids can now connect to their social media through smart home devices such as an Echo Dot or smart appliance. In fact, just last summer a teen whose mom had taken away her phone and other devices went Viral after tweeting using their LG smart fridge.
In addition, according to neuroscientists, the “multitasking” we do when we flip from screen to screen or project to smartphone, is changing our brains. While we are learning to juggle, we are losing the ability for concentration, planning, deep thinking, and meaningful conversations.
Over the past few years it has become a pretty popular and well-researched idea that “multitasking” does not exist. The brain can truly focus on only one thing at a time. So, as we bounce from project to project, we’re accomplishing smaller pieces of our goals, and constantly enabling interruptions. These interruptions are robbing us of time, as every project takes longer and longer to complete. Studies also show that multitasking can lead to more errors and less expertise.
The distraction of the phone and TV also tempts us to tune out human relationships and physical activity. How deep and meaningful can a text conversation be? How productive is a meeting if the attendees are continually glancing at their incoming messages? Why get out and experience the world, if we can beam it into our living rooms on a multitude of screens?
To a kid, who considers technology a way of life and a smartphone an appendage of their body, it may be hard to see any advantage to going “screen-free” – even for one day. If you’re inspiring your children and students to take that challenge this summer, be sure to tell them what they have to gain:
- The ability to live “in the present” and truly engage in the activity at hand
- More free time, by accomplishing tasks more quickly
- Greater skill and confidence in expressing themselves
- Deeper relationships
- Greater degree of concentration and retention
- More time for “living,” versus watching someone else’s life
The Problem with Unplugging
For young people, the biggest obstacle to unplugging is FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. This is a legitimate anxiety that can affect adults, as well as teens. Today it seems there’s almost an expectation that we know everything that’s happening in our friends’ lives, every day. How do you feel when you ask a friend about their job or family and they say, “Didn’t you see my post on Facebook?”
This expectation is especially intense with teens. They feel it’s rude to ignore a text for more than a second or two. They’re horrified if their friends know what’s going on, but they don’t. The only way they can avoid missing out on something important is to keep that phone attached to their bodies.
Kids also feel isolated without their phones – disconnected from their friends and from the world. As adults who didn’t grow up with such readily available technology in the palm of our hands, even we have a hard time unplugging, citing reasons of work or busy schedules kept on track by our myriad apps. Imagine how much harder it would be to set down your smartphone and walk away if it has practically been a part of your daily life since you could talk.
6 Tips for Helping Kids Go Screen-Free
Want to help your children or students experience a day (or more) of freedom from tech addiction? Here are some tips:
Plan ahead – Your kids will feel less anxious about abandoning their devices if you can help them plan for it. Alerting all their friends in advance will ensure that no one feels slighted by an unanswered text. Kids can also schedule to see their friends in person, so they don’t miss out on special activities. Also, if your family is dependent on technology to keep on schedule, be sure to plan a way to compensate for the loss of that technology during device-free time.
Work up to it – For some people, going “cold turkey” just doesn’t work. If you’re preparing your kids for screen-free time, you might start with a 1-hour trial, and work up to entire days. You could even start with shutting down one app for an hour, such as a social media site, to start the growingly popular “social media detox” to begin the unplugging process.
Plan replacement activities – Often simple boredom can drive us to our phones. Make sure your kids have interesting things to do during their screen-free time, so they can more easily resist temptation.
Use the buddy system – Everything’s easier with a friend. Help your kids convince their best friends to take the challenge with them. It’s also going to feel easier if you or your whole family completes the challenge together.
Prove the advantages – We have more credibility with kids when we prove our point in ways that mean something to them personally. Give them two fun and engaging stories to read, of equal length. Let them keep their cell phones on when they read the first. Then take away their phones while they read the second. Record the reading time for each – then tell the kids to pretend that story was their homework. How much free time did they gain?
Schedule “people-time” – Plan a family, class, or group activity that’s tech-free. The personal interaction will not only be fun and gratifying, but will also help the children gain greater comfort with in-person communication.
Can you, your kids, and your students rise to the challenge? Good luck!
*This blog has been updated from a previous post published in June 2017.