My favorite sounds of summer are kids splashing in a pool, the jingle of an ice cream truck, and that sing-song ping telling me that I’ve got a new text message. Huh? While I wish it weren’t true, the time we used to spend making popsicles and catching lightning bugs is now monopolized by video games, surfing the web and Snapchatting friends. We’re so engrossed in our digital lives that it’s easy to forget to smell the wild flowers. So now that we’re in the throes of summer, I suggest that we take a digital vacation.
Expecting your family to take a two-month break from technology is as easy as asking them to stop breathing. And yet there are some simple ways to intentionally unplug that will provide the kind of respite that only summer can afford. Here are a few things to try that will reduce your family’s screen time this summer. It’s important to remember that whatever we ask our kids to do, we as parents should do as well.
Establish device-free zones: The best way to peel the kids away from their phones is to set clear boundaries. Create “device-free areas” like the bedroom, the dinner table, and the car. You and your family will rest easier and enjoy more uninterrupted, quality time together.
Take a digital down day: Vow to dedicate at least one day a week to doing something enjoyable as a family and leave the phones at home. Go for a hike, take the dog for a long walk, go swimming at your neighborhood pool, or ride your bikes to get ice cream or snowballs. If you do these things regularly (like once a week), you’ll be creating lifelong memories for yourself and the kids.
Schedule screen time: Another way to limit phone usage is to designate specific hours of the day for technology. Set a rule that everyone has an hour when they wake up and two hours in the evening. The time in between should be spent outdoors, playing board games, reading, drawing, playing cards, making water balloons, or cooking (gazpacho, for example, is easy to make, refreshing, and can be served for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Your kids will likely complain (“When can we play Fortnite?” or “That’s boring!”), but stick to it. Boredom is the best recipe for creativity, and if you join in the fun then they’re certain to enjoy it.
Make a trade: It won’t always be easy to convince your kids to give up their devices, so you might have to barter. For every hour your kids play outside, allow them an hour to play their favorite video game. Or when they help a neighbor with yard work or complete chores they can go on social media.
Still not convinced you can do it? Experiment for a week or two and see what happens. You and your kids will feel more connected and healthier.
A digital vacation is much more than unplugging. It’s about taking stock of your family’s computer, gaming and phone habits, learning from them by creating healthy boundaries — and then maintaining them even when the digital vacation is over. Who knows, maybe this will be your family’s favorite summer yet?
Joshua Wolf is the father of two 12-year-old boys and an 18-year-old daughter. He is also the head of the middle school at The Park School of Baltimore.