Everyone in my family has a cell phone. I know, I know!
Maybe my kids shouldn’t have them, but we use them all the time. I like to keep in touch with them through texting and I use it for everything from Instagramming special events to using my bank app to transfer money into my kids’ accounts for lunch. Of course, giving kids phones creates a whole host of problems. I have to figure out how to control what they look at on the Internet, who they text, and how much time they spend playing games. It’s hard to come up with rules and a parenting approach, as technology — and the way my kids are using it — keeps changing. We can’t just do it the way our parents did.
Whatever rules you have for your kids (my kids use Internet filters and have to turn their devices in at night for spot checks), you might want to consider having them take a break from technology for a few days. Boys and girls in grades 4 through 12 took the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge to go without technology for three days. The kids in the study were not looking forward to ditching their phones, but they learned that digital devices can be a distraction from other important things.
The idea behind the Tech Timeout is to get kids thinking about how they are using technology. Kids aren’t even aware of how dependent they are on their phones until you take them away. With devices out of the picture, they’re able to make better use of their time and interact more with people.
Here’s how some of the kids responded to the tech break:
“It made me way more creative with my time and it gave me a sense of relief, whereas if I had technology, I would feel like I have to check Instagram.”
“I feel very addicted to social media and stuff, or dependent is a better way to describe it. It’s like habitual dependency, and I feel like I could do without that. It was really relieving for me to not have my technology and my phone on me.”
“I usually take a really long time doing homework and that’s because I get sidetracked with technology and my phone.”
My own kids have experienced something similar to the Tech Timeout. They went on an overnight church trip with about 100 kids from around our neighborhood, and there was a rule that they couldn’t bring their phones. They were not excited about this rule, but begrudgingly, they agreed to leave them at home.
Their experience was similar to the kids’ in the study. They had a fun time, were more engaged, and didn’t miss their phones after a while. They were able to listen to what was going on as well as talk to and get to know people they never would have spoken to if they were staring down at their phones.
I had a similar experience taking a forced break from my phone when I went with my daughter to a week-long camp last summer. We didn’t have phone reception in the canyon we were camping in and, like the youth conference my kids attended, phones were not allowed. I admit, I was pretty put out by this. I wanted to use my phone to stay in touch with my husband back at home and to keep in touch with how my other kids were doing. I also use my phone as a camera and an alarm clock.
After a day or two it was dead, and guess what: I didn’t miss it.
I was reachable in case of an emergency, but in the meantime I felt the burden of checking Facebook, keeping up on email, and Instagramming every moment just slip away. And it felt good. It felt relaxing. It helped me put into perspective the importance of other people’s Facebook posts. What I found is that you can miss a whole week of reading Facebook statuses and not really miss anything. My husband was fine and our kids survived. And because I couldn’t text him constantly like I do most days, I saved up stories to tell him and we had lots to talk about when I got home.
All of this is why I think it’s good to take a break from technology. You don’t realize how much of your time it monopolizes until you get away from it. You put down your phone and suddenly you have time to read a book, talk (face-to-face) with friends, or just feel a bit of boredom creeping in which sparks new ideas and creativity.
Learning to take a break from your phone is as important as specific rules about phone usage. I want my kids to be deliberate about how they use their digital devices. If they choose to treat themselves to half an hour of Clash of Clans after they finish their homework, that’s fine with me. But I don’t want to see their digital devices take over their lives to the point that they find themselves spending uncounted hours on games and apps that mindlessly suck them in. Taking a break from it every now and then is a good way to remind yourself that there is life outside of your smartphone.