Can a twenty-first-century family pull the plug for three weeks?
Give up social media, computer usage, television, and more.
Wendy and Michael Lambert of Gurnee, Illinois, and sons, Zach 12, Max, 10, and Jack, 4
Like many parents with tech-savvy kids, Wendy was noticing her children’s growing reliance on electronics. “When we’d go to the library, they’d check out more DS and Wii games or movies than books,” she says. She also noticed more moms on the playground “plugged into their phones” and not interacting with their kids. Instead of being in the moment, these moms were distracted and attached to their devices. Wendy and her husband Michael decided it was time to curb their own family’s reliance on technology, particularly for entertainment purposes. So the Lamberts agreed to give up the “necessities” of today’s modern family: texting, watching TV, and communicating on the computer.
Out of sight
Before the digital detox began, Wendy and Michael explained to Zach, Max, and Jack how the challenge would work. Ten the boys handed over all their electronic devices, which Wendy hid to minimize temptation. She was concerned the boys might try to “sneak” some digital time, and knew the detox would be especially tough for 12-year– old Zach. “He has Asperger’s, so he has a really hard time breaking away from anything electronic—it’s almost like an addiction for him,” she says.
The kids weren’t the only ones cutting back: Both Wendy and Michael deactivated their Facebook ac– counts, and could only use their landline to talk. “I thought the computer would be the hardest thing to give up because I have a lot of my recipes on Pinterest, and I use Facebook for communicating with friends,” says Wendy. But a surprisingly difficult device to do without? “Te radio!” she admits. “I’d keep it on as background noise for most of the day.”
Living tech-free Without a computer, Wendy felt disconnected at times. “I had no idea what was going on,” she says. She and Michael also found it difficult to chat with friends without Facebook or texting. “A lot of our communication happens electronically,” says Michael. “There are people we usually communicate with only through e-mail or Facebook.”
Back to the basics
But Wendy soon began to see positive changes in her technology-free children. “They started going outside and playing with their friends in the neighborhood,” she says. Plus, the family was spending more time together, and—aside from missing a hockey playoff game on TV—no one seemed to mind when movie night was replaced with an evening playing board games. Even better news? Her oldest son, who had essentially stopped reading, went through a “mountain of books” during the detox.
“The attitudes of the kids have definitely changed,” Wendy says. Now, they’re more apt to turn of the TV and play outside when she asks—with less grumbling.
Wendy has changed her habits, too, and she doesn’t feel the need for background noise from electronics during the day. Plus, without the distractions, she feels more present in her kids’ lives. “I couldn’t rely on their TV time to keep them busy while I did something else,” she says. “We spent a lot of time together, playing in parks and going on walks.” And, she found her kids to be more talkative. These positive changes led to new rules post-detox: “We’ve already told the boys they have an hour a day to use electronics. Tat’s it. But they can determine how they want to spend that time.” Eventually, she and Michael may allow more digital privileges in exchange for something, like extra chores. Her suggestion for others feeling inundated by technology? “I would say, do it! Try the detox, and see how it works for your family. I think it made a huge difference.”
Would you take a family tech break, let us know in the comments below?