We’re a modern 21st-century family where everyone has a smartphone, laptop, smart TVs, Xbox and all the other WiFi-enabled devices. They keep us in touch with each other and make life more convenient and entertaining. Coordinating the schedules and activities of three teenagers is definitely easier because of their phones.
So I’m in no way advocating for the permanent removal of technology from our family. However, a weekend, or a week, of unplugging is amazing.
My kids attend a camp in New Hampshire and one of the rules is that all phones and electronics are prohibited. The packing list clearly states in big, bold letters: Leave them at home. For a week, they are completely unplugged. No texting. No YouTube. No Netflix. No Fortnite or COD. No Snapchat. And you know what, they love it.
Camp is unequivocally their favorite week of the summer. They countdown the days until check-in. They ask us to register for the next year before we even finish packing them up to go home. There is not a single ounce of them that misses their phones and technology during that week.
As a family, we usually have two weekends over the summer where we go camping. We pitch a tent, fish in the pond or river, sleep on air mattresses, and cook over an open fire. Our phones come along, but spend almost all their time in the truck in case of an emergency. Again, the kids don’t miss them. They make friends at the campground, get filthy dirty playing pick-up Wiffle ball, take an hour to figure out how to start a fire on their own, and bounce back and forth so often between swimming and eating that I need to remember to pack twice as many towels and twice as much food.
When the kids returned from camp this year, we took advantage of their technology abstinence and decided to keep the unplugged time going for the rest of the summer. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., phones are put away.
Here’s the thing about unplugging at home: When you unplug life gets more chaotic, messier and louder.
Instead of being glued to their phone screens, my kids are now doing things. My kitchen is in a constant state of disaster from all the cooking and baking experiments. The dog has never had so many walks. The noise level is always at 10 as the kids talk, laugh and, yes, argue. The bickering increases, but that’s because they’re interacting with each other instead of being holed up alone in their rooms. A kid can only sit still on a couch for so long without a screen in their hand. It’s almost a teenage law of motion. They will eventually get up and do something, even if that’s just following me around complaining about how they’re bored.
Personally, I believe sitting quietly on the deck with your own thoughts isn’t a bad way for a teen to learn the joy of patience and alone time — but that’s just me.
In the end, our unplugged times are fairly flexible based on the day’s activities and schedules, but adding in some guaranteed time away from their screens has definitely been a productive use of our summer. And for all their moaning and groaning in the beginning, the kids really don’t miss that time away from their devices.
So if you’re considering unplugging your teen, use these last summer weeks to give it a go. You might be surprised how well it turns out for everyone. Just don’t expect a clean and quiet house.