Unplug, It’s Good for the Family

Photo by Marla Carlton

I do not like technology. Actually, I do. I always have, but I am really torn with regard to the amount of technology that should be made available to my children. I have taken a lot of steps to simplify our life but we still have a long way to go. For me, simplifying includes less devices, more books, less movies, more board games- yet I sit on my computer or my iPhone for 90% of my day.

My children like board games and family game night (Sundays). They like Legos and making rubber band bracelets. They like charades and riding their bikes. They like wrestling and playing hide and seek. But they LOVE, with a capital L-O-V-E, their devices. They watch movies on them, they play games, they take photos, they make movies, they “Facetime”, they watch You Tube, they are always “connected.”

Instagram is their favorite. Probably because it’s the only social sharing app I allow them to use. They love taking photos of everything under the sun and then posting them for all the world to see. Well, not all the world. Their accounts are private, so they share with kids they know, from school, from the neighborhood, family friends, family. I admit it, I like instagram too. I like the simplicity of it. Posting photos, liking photos.

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Here’s the rub. Since joining Instagram at 7 years old, they not only want to share every experience they have, but they also want to check how many followers they have, how many people liked their photo, what comments were made, etc. Hmm. Bad idea for me to let them have Instagram.

When I gave them access to iPods, iPads and iPhones, I was thinking about the safety aspect, translation— they can always reach me in an emergency if they have a phone. (Only my older son has an iPhone, a gift for his 10th birthday. My younger ones have iPad minis, gifts for Christmas.) I was also thinking about the photography/creative aspect. You know, the fabulous built in camera, cool creative apps, etc. And, of course, there is the keeping up with technology thing. How cool, that with one device, they have a phone (iPads have Facetime), and a camera. How cool that they like to take photos of things they see and experience. How cool that they know how to edit, crop and add captions to photos at 7 years old. Right?

Cut to Spring Break a couple of weeks ago. We drove to Northern California to visit my family. The drive was fabulous, as my technology savvy car has built in WIFI. I am my own mobile hot spot. Yes, that’s right. The kids love it! I listened to music, they watched nonstop “Disney” shows. My older son, Maximilian (11) took a few photos now and then when he removed his hoodie from over his body to look out. He was covered with his hoodie for most of the drive to block out the glare on his iPad. I was thankful for their devices on the 6 hour drive but once we arrived, I wanted them to put them down. They did. They know how I am about being on devices for too long. During the drive we even took a break and did these silly cards I keep in my car. Cards that prompt creative thinking by asking questions.

While staying in Northern California, we went on a lot of excursions outdoors, and they loved it. There is a lot of space there and my family has lots of land, horses, and other fun things for kids at their disposal. Fun! During that trip, they also saw some things that helped them appreciate us, as a family unit. My older son especially took note, and was happy to pull into our driveway at the end of the trip. I made some decisions during that week. iPads, iPhones, xbox … gone. They have been removed from our house. For now.

I know technology is unavoidable, but it was permeating our lives, influencing everything. When my first child was born over a decade ago, I was one of those parents to have battery free toys.

My older son watched no TV before he was 2 years old. I even opened an online store selling wooden and natural toys. I didn’t want my child glued to a television and definitely not a device. This was a big deal for me because I love TV! I love watching movies. I love to watch my shows I record. I love it. But I waited until he was napping or sleeping to turn on TV.

Technology is a huge part of my life. I am a creative director for a design firm. Creating and branding websites is my daily work. Not to mention writing and editing, most of which I do on the computer. My kids don’t understand that I do it for work, they just see me on my computer all the time. I am now making a conscious effort to unplug after work. No phone, no emails, no texts. I’ve taken out the real camera (digital), not an iPhone and take their photos. I don’t download them and post them to Instagram or FB right away. I just take photos.

It’s been two weeks without devices at home. My son doesn’t have his phone to take to school. I do feel guilty about that. It’s a status symbol at school but I can’t be sucked into that and neither can he. We did go to a friend’s house over the weekend, and I caved and let them play video games with their friends. But at home, sans devices, they seem less stressed out, less agitated, more respectful, more like kids. They take more time with their homework, and we connect more. We still watch TV and movies but we watch them together. They don’t lock themselves away in their room watching nonstop TV shows after school anymore on their iPads. They swim, they play with Ruby (our hamster), and they hang out with each other, and, wait for it … they read!

My youngest plays Lacrosse, and we’ve all started playing Lacrosse as a family—practicing throwing and catching. I told them I would play a board game with them if they finish their chores and they love it. Our favorite board games of the moment are “Beat the Parents,” “Checkers,” “Apples to Apples,” and “Chess.” Friday or Saturday night we pick a movie we can all watch and have movie night. Last week was “The Croods.” This weekend, my daughter gave me a manicure, and we did little home facials.

Overall, I’ve seen that if I just spend time with my children, focused on them, they engage more. I don’t know how long I will keep them off their devices. They are not complaining right now. I think it was overwhelming for them too. My oldest said the other day, “You know, I thought it would be really awful to not have electronics but it’s not bad. I don’t even need them.” That was nice to hear. We’ll see how it goes. Stay tuned.

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