I was remembering what things were like when I was a kid: when getting home from school meant grabbing a row of saltine crackers, the jar of peanut butter, a glass of milk and gathering around the tv like moths to the light – Starsky & Hutch, Magnum PI, Dukes of Hazard, and Knight Rider (no Little House on the Prairie unless my brother wasn’t home). After dinner, the TV was taken over by my dad… we would watch with him until sounds of his snoring filled the room before we sneakily changed the channel – holding our breaths like disarming a bomb. “Hey, I was watching that!” meant we had failed. The point is that even our screen time required in-person, human contact. When we were shooed from the house on a Saturday afternoon to go outside and play, we wouldn’t come home until the streetlights came on.
Sure, there were some questionable choices: My sister attempting to stand up on the banana seat of her bike while riding the slope of our street to disastrous results. My brother skateboard-skiing behind our bicycles; skipping rope his ski line, his slalom attempts where the prelude to pileups. I was pretty sure I could fly, but mainly down the stairs… or at least, some of them. Spending hours in the quiet of the nearby forest looking for snakes, crayfish, salamanders. You know, real free-range childhood stuff. This was life as a kid before screens invaded our lives.
For kids, normal is what happens. My colleague said that. She makes a valid point. This ‘normal’ our kids are living requires some unique solutions to support them. We know increased screen time can affect our mental wellness – both positively and negatively. I see so many amazing parents around me, playing with their kids outside, coming up with thoughtful alternatives for Halloween and Christmas that truly engage and excite the kids. I watch their amazing kids playing outside together, helping each other, putting on shows, and taking over the street with their bikes, scooters, and games.
I also hear parents express concerns about losing their kids to the screen and how difficult it is to lure kids away from it. With fewer opportunities to be social and with virtual learning added to the mix, I urge those of you who can recall what life was like before the screen to take time to reflect. What did you do? What were the things that inspired your awe? The things that captured your attention and imagination? How can you share that experience with the kids in your life?
I have been pondering this topic for over a week. During that time, I have taken longer beach walks with my dogs (thank you mild weather!), I have baked creatively, cooked creatively, connected with my people, and even picked up a new song on guitar (Love & Rockets – I sound terrible, but LOVE it!). I’m pretty sure that the power of thinking about reflecting and unplugging subconsciously led me to those creative outlets and I encourage you to try it for yourself.
As winter drags on and hibernation-mode sets in, remember what it was like when being unplugged was our normal everyday life and share that experience with the kids in your lives with enthusiasm, creativity, and love. Remember that the screen is addictive, and interrupting screen time in a meaningful way is almost like an intervention. So approach it strategically:
- Think about things that will truly interest the kids in your life and do them. together.
- Set up blocks of time with zero screens – play a family game, go for a bike ride, or even watch a movie – but do it together.
- Talk about it. Be creative and do something marvelous. together. Build something – a volcano or puzzle, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as your kid is interested!
- Make memories that will feed your soul.
For Children: Digital detox: A resource on how to unplug and recharge.
For Youth: Youth share on what technology means to them.
For Caregivers: Five reasons to make unplugging a priority in our families.
For Educators: Podcast interview that talks about the importance of unplugging and challenges a digital detox for students and families.