As someone who prides herself on being a total techy geek, unplugging can be a huge challenge. Compact that with the fact that I share a home with two boys and husband who also love all things digital and I have had to put some serious thought into this whole “unplugging” business. We never use phones or iPods at the dinner table but more than once I have found the four of us all sitting together in the living room lost in four different and completely separate digital worlds. Together and alone. Sound familiar?
So what is a little techy family to do? Throw out all of the gadgets and go completely off the grid? Maybe. And some days that sounds super tempting. But then reality comes knocking at the door with school projects and emails about hockey and graphic design jobs along with all of the fun stuff like a couple of episodes of House of Cards on Netflix and there we are. Plugged in again. So it really is about balance, right? We use and enjoy technology but it is only one part of our family’s world.
Here are some easy ways to make technology a smaller part of your family’s life:
Enforce a one-screen rule. I know there are lots of you out there who don’t let your kids watch any TV at all. I know there are probably even more of you whose kids don’t have iPods for one reason or another. Our kids are allowed to watch some TV and they both have iPods (one saved up for his and the other received one as a gift from an incredibly generous AND childless uncle). Try not to judge! Recently, I walked into a room where the boys are watching a movie on a weekend night AND they are both on their iPods. WHAAAAT?! Yup. I know I probably just blew a few minds right there but for any family that is still super plugged in, I’m sure you can relate. All I have to say now is “one screen” and they either hand me their iPod or choose to go in another room. It might not sound like much but it is a BABY STEP!
Cut the cable! To be honest, we first got rid of cable as a money saving measure. We realized that the amount of money we were spending on cable television was nearly enough for a family vacation. We do have Netflix and Hulu+ which provide plenty of digital entertainment. I find that we are much more intentional about our TV watching. No channel surfing and the best part, no ads! (Note: Hulu+ does have some ads but they are short and we just mute the TV when they come on.)
Designate a reading night. Our kids have to read each night for school but we miss the days of reading them bedtime stories. My husband has designated one night a week family reading night. Sometimes he reads a story to the boys and sometimes we all read our own books snuggled up together in the living room.
Keep “paper” books and magazines around. I’m not going to lie. I LOVE my Kindle and Nook apps that let me download or borrow ebooks instantly from our town library. But I still love the feel and smell and sound of a book or a magazine. And when we are having a family reading night, I purposely grab one of these for two reasons: to role model being totally unplugged and so I am not distracted by the dinging of an email or a new text coming in.
Eat outside. Because we live in New England, being able to eat outside is a total luxury and something we can only do for a relatively short part of the year. By eating outside we are surrounded by nature and we are more likely to stay OUTSIDE after the meal is over. We are very lucky to have a deck (that we built!) to spend time on. But we also had many years of no deck and little to no lawn. Grab some camping chairs and sit in the driveway or throw a blanket down on the lawn. Use a cooler for your table. It doesn’t have to be fancy! Two summers ago my husband whipped out a box of dominos and we have been hooked ever since. It is a great game for (just about) every age and requires minimal setup and clean up.
Delete the Facebook app. This one is for the grown-ups out there. If you are on Facebook and you have it installed on your phone, delete it. That is unless you have WAY more self control than I do. I see that little red number letting me know that something new happened and I just canNOT resist the urge to tap that shiny blue F icon. Honestly, it is a habit and if it is a hard one for you to break, take it off your phone. You can always reinstall it if you need/want to but you may just find something better to do with your time in the minute that it will take to download it again.
Get a home phone. I know what you are thinking! Ellie, you just told us to get rid of the cable. Yes yes yes! We finally found a reliable, non-cable company phone that works through our internet. (Psst. You can read more about that over here if you like.) By having a home phone, with an extra handset upstairs, you can eliminate the need (whether real or perceived) to sleep with your phone by, next to or in your bed. It is WAY too easy to wake up and grab your phone to check the weather and then… 30 minutes later you find yourself flipping through photos from your sister’s neighbor’s cousin’s girlfriend’s 30th birthday party. Please tell me I am not the only one this has happened to! Turn off your phone. Like all the way off. Let it rest, too. You might just find you have all sorts of found time to just sit and breathe or take an extra minute to chat with your kiddos before they are out the door.
You can find Ellie online at www.creative-geekery.com.