The wait is over, and Summer is almost here! School districts across the country are putting the finishing touches on another year of education and closing their doors for the summer. Summer Break is something kids look forward to, but that wasn’t always the case. Agriculture was the driving force behind the creation of Summer Break. Families needed their children to work during the summer months to survive so going to school just wasn’t an option. By the 1970s and 80s, technology advances had reduced the need for summer farming labor. Summer Break had morphed into a time to ride bikes, play freeze tag, and hit the pool with your friends. It was a magical time to be a kid! Fast forward forty years to the present day. Advances in technology have changed the landscape of Summer Break once again. Teens and young adults use digital devices to interact with their peers. Why leave the house when you can chat with your friends, see their photos, comment on their posts all from your smartphone?
Taking a Break From Tech
The summer months provide parents a fantastic opportunity to implement a “digital detox” with their kids. Taking a break from the beeps, pings, and buzz of social media is something everyone should consider due to the adverse effects it can have on your neural pathways. Certain aspects of social media have proven to be addictive. Various research studies have shown how the brain releases small amounts dopamine when we receive a like, a favorite, or upvote on something we’ve posted online. We get a small, short lived high from how that public, social acknowledgment makes us feel.
It’s more than just the chemistry in your brain though. Those likes, tweets, and chirps offer a connection to the rest of the world. It is hard to resist that taking that quick glance at your phone to see who or what is vying for your attention. As an experiment, try not looking at your smartphone for a short period. Ignore its persuasive pings and alluring alerts. This simple assignment is much harder than you might imagine and it speaks volumes to the need for a family-wide tech disconnect. I’m suggesting a digital detox that consists of no smartphones, no tablets, and no video games. The ideal disconnect would last three to five days. Taking a break from tech is no easy task. Let’s look at how to you can make this idea work for your household.
You’re the Worst
Parents should be prepared for an enormous amount of pushback on this idea. Taking technology away from teens is a common form of punishment for breaking the rules. Now, you’re going to limit its usage for a few days for no logical reason other than you read it was a good idea. Generation Z views the virtual world much differently than previous generations. They don’t see a significant difference between the physical and virtual worlds. In their eyes, you are isolating them from their friends, community, and everything outside of the house. FOMO, the fear of missing out, will be a driving force behind their adolescent concerns. Your offspring may quickly believe “you’re the worst, meanest parent in the whole world and you don’t care about your kids” or something like that. The best advice is to explain your reason for taking a break from tech to your family with the expectation that it will probably fall on deaf ears.
Making It Work
Implementing a digital disconnect is not going to be an easy task for most households. There are some strategies parents can use to increase the likelihood of success.
- Model It
For a digital detox to be effective, we as parents need to model the behavior we want our children to emulate. Show your kids how vital a disconnect can be by putting your device down. Lead by example! Stop checking Facebook, Instagram, and email every time your smartphone chirps. As a working adult, you probably won’t be able to cut off your access completely, but you should limit it as much as possible.
- Plan It
Schedule a few activities with friends to get the kids interacting with the real world while taking a break from tech. Plan an event like going bowling or bouncing at an indoor trampoline park. You could consider taking your crew to the library, a museum, or aquarium. The goal is to get the kids into an environment where they can experience the world and interact with people face to face.
- Ease Into It
As mentioned above, the ideal disconnect would last three to five days. Starting your digital detox with that goal in mind may be perceived as a major shock to your environment. It does not have to be though. Start small by limiting usage at during dinner time a few nights a week. If your busy schedule prevents family mealtimes, look for other opportunities to restrict tech usage for an hour or two. Parents should consider using this strategy a few times before pulling the plug for several days.
Students who have taken part in a digital detox appreciated the disconnect once they get past the initial smartphone withdrawal. Teens said they felt happier, slept better, were more relaxed, and could be more focused during the downtime. Additionally, kids interacted with their friends in face to face settings more often when virtual communication was not an option. The reality is that most teens will go right back to their old ways when given the opportunity. Don’t get too frustrated by that though. Social media is a mainstay of how Generation Z communicates and interacts with the world. The goal of taking a break from tech is to make them aware of how technology can change your thinking, mood, and behaviors. Take a few minutes to reflect as a group before you reinstate technology access.
The team over at Bark has created a suite of tools parents can use to monitor their digital devices. Bark for Parents can monitor 25 social media platforms, email, and text messaging. Bark takes advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning to scan for issues related to cyberbullying, self-harm, sexting, and other concerning behaviors. When the system detects a problem, it will alert parents via both email and text. Bark will give a detailed description of the problem along with recommendations for the best next steps to take. Teens and young adults often struggle to make smart decisions when it comes to technology use. A digital disconnect can quickly bring out some sneaky behaviors as kids try to find a way to beat the system. Bark would be a great tool to ensure your family indeed takes a break if you are considering taking a break from tech.
You can find some other tools for monitor tech usage in your home in our Help @ Home guide: Limits, Locks, and Learning.