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Worried that Screens Will Eat Your Summer Vacation?

When we see our kids using screens more than we’d like, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or assume the worst. But these days, kids can use devices for almost everything, so what might look like mindless scrolling or binge-watching could actually be a Youtube video about pollinators, a group chat with their cousins planning to meet up, or designing a roller coaster track using basic physics.

As we put together our plans for summer screentime, let’s remember that not all screentime is created equal.

Connecting with friends and family

Our kids want and need to stay in touch with friends when school is out for the summer. Tech-based communication like Zoom, Google Meet, Facetime, and Whatsapp makes staying in touch with far flung family members easier, too.

Passive use vs. Interactive use

Is your kid interacting and engaging with apps and tools they use – building worlds, playing games, designing characters? Or is it passive – simply scrolling, “liking,” or watching?

Creating vs. Consuming

Is this screen time that encourages creation – editing videos, recording songs, writing a play, drawing a comic? Or are they just consuming other people’s content?

Learning new things

Sometimes passive consumption is educational – TikTok has become a surprisingly educational platform! If your kid is currently fascinated by a specific topic, screen time can be a great educational opportunity. Do check in with them about what they are learning and have them show you the videos and channels they are watching.

Reduce screen use conflict by scheduling “Pro-tech Days”

Our kids are less likely to argue about screen use if they know what to expect.

If they know they’ve got a week of less-restricted screen use coming at the end of the month, they probably won’t spend quite as much time begging to turn on the video game console at the beginning of the month.

So take out the calendar and look at the rest of the summer. Are there any sections of time that really lend themselves to unrestricted or less restricted screen use?

If you’re working from home this summer, is there a week when you’ll need uninterrupted time for a big project? Giving your child more screen time that week will make things much easier for you. Or maybe your family has a show that you love that you’ll miss when you travel and you can plan to watch all your missed episodes the weekend after you get back. Promising not to watch a shared show while your child is in overnight camp will also earn you some goodwill.

Or after a few weeks of outdoor-only, screen-free day camp, your kid may enjoy some less-restricted access to a day of Roblox.

Once you’ve identified some days that make sense, schedule these “Pro-tech Days” and make sure your kid knows when they are. Keeping your kids involved and informed will dramatically cut down on the conflict.

Schedule in “Unplugged Days” too

When you’re consulting your calendar for those “Pro-tech Days,” schedule in some Unplugged Days, too. We can all make these screen-free days more appealing to our kids by planning some truly enjoyable unplugged activities and involving them in that planning process.

Maybe don’t expect your teenage son to spend one of his Unplugged Days staring at impressionist landscape paintings at the museum with you. Unless you know that’s his jam. If you are in Chicago, maybe this cool Nick Cave show at the MCA. would be fun. Or some live music in the park. Or a trip to a beach with the super soakers and some friends.

Alongside your kid, brainstorm ways to spend these Unplugged Days that won’t feel deprivational or boring. 1000 Hours Outside is one of my favorite resources for screen-free ideas.

Download apps that encourage more creative screen time

Counterintuitive as it sounds, we can encourage more creative screen use by downloading more apps. If your kid is mostly using screens for passive consumption, think about their hobbies and interests and try to help them find interactive, creative apps that support those interests.

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in music
TuneTrain
GarageBand
Virtual Drumming

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in science
Nasa App
Sky View App
Weather App

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in art and design
Drawing Pad
Fashion Design Sketches
Skyscraper App

You can also work on taking things in the the other direction–moving from on screen to off. If your tween or teen is watching cooking shows, they can make brunch and snacks! Or dinner every Thursday.

If your kid is watching home organizing TikTok videos (why, oh why won’t my kid watch those?) Encourage them to organize the bathroom. Or pick a project they are excited about. They can always make a stop motion animation or take before and after pictures if that makes it more fun!

“What are the fun summer things we need to make sure we do this year?”

Include kids in the planning process:

In general: plan and be intentional – it’ll take a bit of effort, but it’ll make summer more fun for EVERYONE.

Is there a place you’ve heard about that you want to visit?

Are there friends you want to go camping with?

Do you want to learn a new skill?

 Do you want to try a first sleepover with friends or grandparents without the pressures of the school year?

Can teens with a learner’s permit or a new license help with driving on a family road trip?

Find ways to access “novelty” outside of your phone

Finally, we can look for way to find novely offline. For the last 2.5 years, most of us have found novelty almost exclusively through our screens – new Netflix shows, new phone games, new TikTok accounts to follow. And for many of us, the sense of novelty has kept us going through this long, monotonous pandemic.

But as things open back up and we start to rebalance our lives and venture into the world, we can find novelty in a new playground, a new ice-cream flavor, or a new skill. I just took a rowing class. In a real boat. Rowing is hard. It turns out, there is a LOT of upper body strength involved…starting with carrying the boat down to the river. But it was new and exciting, and even though I am still sore…I also feel rejuvenated by having tried something new. If you try something new this summer, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Photo credit: pexels-jessica-lewis-creative-4200824 

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Technology as a Distraction: Raising Kids in the Digital Age

Distraction is a real issue with kids and tech. Having a plan can help mitigate the shortcomings of tech and help your kids find balance.

When I speak at schools in communities across the country, parents approach me with their concerns. In every community, technology as a distraction comes up as one of the most frequent—and urgent—issues that worry parents.

Recent data from iKeepSafe suggest that parents are right to be concerned, with 28% of teens reporting that their digital engagement interferes with schoolwork. Even outside the classroom, 44% of tweens admit that their digital pursuits take them away from other things they are doing, and 17% of tweens say that their digital engagement causes problems in relationships with friends and family.

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Click here for rest of the iKeepSafe study.

 

 

Internet distraction, technology is a distraction, technology as distraction, is technology a distraction, parenting in the digital age two problems with technology
Click here for rest of the iKeepSafe study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adults are hardly exempt from the distraction issue (myself included!), with 14% of adults acknowledging that they need to spend less time with technology. If this issue is challenging for adults, imagine how difficult it is for kids. Teens and tweens are in need of mentorship to help them navigate these challenges. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t ready to unplug completely as our digital engagement bring about significant advantages. We shouldn’t expect that our kids are, either. Let’s look at the issue more deeply.

This data is helpful as it breaks down some different scenarios for distraction/disruption. One of the biggest reveals, later in the study is how much teens and tweens online engagement can interfere with sleep. The is a huge issue, and can masquerade as distraction, as focus is difficult to achieve when you are exhausted! 


Internet Safety, technology is a distraction, technology as distraction, is technology a distraction, parenting in the digital age two problems with technology

teens and digital distraction

Two Tech Attitudes – Which One Are You?

As I describe in Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, the research on kids and distraction falls into two broad categories: The Optimists and The Cautionists.

  • The Optimists. Techno-optimists believe our minds are getting stronger because of digital technology. Freed from having to remember a ton of facts, we can create and link ideas together in new and interesting ways. Cathy Davidson argues that “monotasking” is not compatible with how our brains work.
  • The Cautionists. Techno-cautionists believe that technology is a distraction – that we are all in “The Shallows,” skimming and scanning and not truly reading. Indeed, before we all jump into eTextbooks, we should look at some of the evidence that format matters.

While there’s more research to be done, there are studies like this one that suggest that we retain information better when it’s in paper form rather than digital form. One question to keep in mind: Is this true only for people who already have a history of learning from paper texts? Or are there properties of printed text that affect memory—such as the physicality of turning a page and knowing where you are in a book? And how is this different for digital natives—our kids?

Annie Murphy Paul says (in research summarized in Slate in 2013) that groups of college students doing important homework checked their phones quite frequently. We seek out breaks in our work and the mental work of toggling back and forth is where we risk sacrificing our best abilities. It seems like only a few seconds of interruption, but it takes us a while to re-engage and get back into the flow. This “dislocation” is a problem as we may get fatigued from the effort of repeatedly bringing ours minds back to a task. Thus, one hour of homework can take 2-3 hours, yet be more exhausting—but the effort is not from the work itself, but the work of constantly re-focusing.

What this may suggest, is that for major work (a longer paper or a serious assignment), your teen or tween student should print out her drafts and proofread them on paper. Editing on paper may be better for many of us. Paperless sounds great and is very ecologically desirable, but many of us need to proofread our most important work on paper. Let’s dive a little deeper into parents’ biggest concern about distraction—homework.

Homework and Distraction

Does this scene sound familiar? Your child goes up to her room to complete her homework—perhaps on a school-issued iPad. Three hours later, she isn’t finished. Was she perhaps iChatting or Facetiming with her friends? Perhaps it started out about the homework, but then she got pulled into other topics. Was she listening to music and “had” to make a new playlist? Did she get distracted by someone’s post on Instagram and feel she was missing out on a social “hangout” that very instant? Or was she just “old school” daydreaming and not focusing?

Most kids in elementary and middle school shouldn’t have 3-4 hours of homework. The homework epidemic is a topic for a whole different book, but do check with your child’s teacher for guidelines about how much time they expect homework to take. If it’s taking way too long (or not long enough), it could be an indicator that there’s an underlying problem.

Many kids need to unplug for homework. Again, check with your child’s teacher. Not all homework requires online time, so offline time (or even turning off your home wifi) during “home study hall” could be an amazingly effective tactic. Imagine the conversations with your spouse and the dishes that would get done if you couldn’t check your email right after dinner!

What You Can Do to Help Your Kids

If you observe that your children are struggling with distractions when completing homework on a tablet or laptop, collaborate with your kids to figure out how to tame the distractions. Here are some strategies—find which ones are best for your family:

  • No double screening. Many students I’ve spoken to say their parents have rules about no double screening, but it can be a huge help. Though it requires some will power, put the other device away. Even if homework requires a tablet, for instance—stick to one device so you can focus.
  • Use tech to fight tech. Some kids will appreciate and enjoy “distraction blockers” like Leechblock and Freedom. While this won’t solve the problem on its own, it can help! As I type this post, I am blocking social media myself. My friends’ babies are cute and breaking news is exciting, but I need to focus.
  • Turn off the tech. Many parents find that simply turning off their home wifi really helps kids get their work done. Again, the Internet and connectivity is only a small part of most kids’ homework. Sure, they may be expected to be in an interactive space with classmates to post a comment, but that is likely only a tiny portion of their homework. Even a blog post as an assignment can be written offline and posted later.
  • Start unplugged to get plugged. If your kids say, “but I need to (collaborate with my friends, be online, use the Internet, etc.) to do my homework,” have them complete all the non-Internet homework first and then have them do the plugged-in homework. Impose a time limit or be present yourself so that they know that they need to finish.
  • Show your struggles too. Lastly, be open with your kids about your own experiences of distraction. Tell them your struggles—how it can be a drain on your productivity at work or that it feels tough to keep up with sometimes. Knowing this can be very helpful to them and make them feel like their own struggles are not “abnormal.”

Hope that you find these suggestions to be helpful. Our devices add a lot to our lives—both positive and negative. Digital Citizenship is about learning how to harness the positives and minimize the negatives. Distraction is not just about the devices, but how we use them. If you can get at the root cause of distraction, you will be in a much better position to mentor your kids on to fight through it and get their homework done!

Please share your most positive experiences with navigating distraction and any challenges in the comments!  Do you have any best practices to share?

 

Devorah Heitner, PhD is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World and the founder of Raising Digital Natives a resource for schools and families wishing to cultivate a climate of digital citizenship.

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New Year’s Tech-Resolutions

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Happy New Year (and Back to School) from Raising Digital Natives

Back to school is a great time to make those tech-resolutions for a more balanced, more empathic, more thoughtful use of technology in the coming year.

Now…that sounds great. But I’ve been locked in my home with my child for 48 hours during an “arctic event.” We have plastic over the windows, but it is still cold, even inside.  It is about as cold as Mars out there.  Many tech-resolutions have been made…and then broken as the rooms of our house start to seem smaller and smaller.

One highlight of our cabin-fever day–made possible by technology–was a google hangout conversation with the my parents where my son and his grandfather read to each other from The Lorax. Some of our other tech-time was a little less inspiring…but that’s another story.

Nothing like 40 below with the wind chill to bring on a lot more digital engagement than we might otherwise choose.  If you are lucky enough to be in a location where it is warm enough for your kids to head back to school today, then try to grab a moment to jot down a quick list of new year’s tech-intentions for your family.

To get you started…

Here are some quick ideas to help integrate/regulate/domesticate the new tech devices that may have entered your home during the holidays. Now that the boxes are in the recycling bin, the first question you may have is, should this go to school?

If your child is the proud owner of a new smartphone, iPod Touch, gaming device or tablet, this is an important question. Find out what the school’s rules are and what is allowed by your child’s teacher. If the device is supposed to be contained all day in a locker, it may be easier and safer to leave it at home. Even if you don’t agree with restrictions at your child’s school, don’t encourage your kids to be sneaky. Get them to think with you about why the rules are in place and what the alternatives could look like.

Settings

Now that you’ve had this new item for a little while, you may want to be sure the settings are appropriate for your child’s age. For an iPod touch: go to settings, then general, then restrictions. You will make up a passcode and from there you can turn off apps you don’t want your child to have access to. You may want to turn off the ability to install and delete apps as well. You can also turn off “in-app purchases” so your little gamer doesn’t spend your mortgage on gold coins. You may want to replace Safari with a kid’s browser as well (AVG and McGruff are two free ones.)

For those using iPads or other Apple products, you may not want to share an Apple ID with your child— unless you also want your child getting your messages and calendar updates. Think carefully! Android tablets have some nice kid safe modes that will work for younger kids and completely annoy older kids.

What to do with older kids?

Talk early and often! Ask them what they are doing and with whom. Have them show you examples of social media profiles that they think are cool, and others that they think are tasteless or gross. The more they can articulate about their standards, the more you’ll know where they need mentorship. Opening up the conversation is the most important step you can take to help them navigate this terrain. Consider keeping smartphones in adult bedrooms overnight (especially for middle schoolers!)

For Teachers

A new semester offers a perfect time to assess both how your connected learning efforts are going and how you can include parents in your class’s learning community. Are there opportunities for the students to show off their process—not just their product—to parents in a hands-on demo event? Can a working parent be a guest speaker in your classroom through tele-presence? If something is NOT engaging the students the way you hoped, can your students come up with some ideas about how to tweak the project or change the dynamic?

For the Whole Family

What will your “unplugged time” look like each week? And what is some media content that you can all enjoy together this year? How will you model thoughtful and balanced use of your own shiny new devices?

A new year is a great time to think about the opportunity to change what you didn’t like from the previous year…You may want to post your resolutions. Stay warm, and if you are already warm–I am officially envious!

Wish me luck, I hear we may be back to school tomorrow.

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Photo Credit: Photo is by Daniela Reinsch