A little over a year ago, my then 14 year old, son asked if he could have 7 friends over for a BBQ. Of course we said yes and didn’t give it much more thought from there. When the night came, we grilled some burgers and hotdogs and then left the kids alone on the patio. After 30 minutes or so, I looked out the door to see all 8 kids sitting around the patio table talking, laughing and generally having a great time with the exception of the constant texting, snapping, and instagramming of pictures. Quite honestly, it looked the same as most innocent teenagers hanging out. It was at that moment that I wished that I had taken all the phones when the kids arrived at the house. As I verbalized this thought to my 16 year old son, he replied ‘Mom, you’d never have the guts to do that.’ And that was all it took to propel me into action.
I went into the cabinet and found the cutest wicker basket I could, because every good phone roundup starts with a cute basket. To the shock of my older son, I headed for the patio. As I walked out, I wondered what the heck I was doing and was I committing social suicide for both myself and my son who has having the BBQ. But it was too late. I was committed. I walked up to the table, and with the nicest smile I could find, announced ‘Phone Roundup’ as I put the basket in the middle of the table. Shockingly, every single kid, without hesitation, put his or her phone in the basket. I said thanks and walked inside and smiled at my older son proving to him that I did have the guts.
What happened next, I never expected. I looked out the window 5 minutes later and saw all the kids playing Frisbee on the lawn. As darkness took over, they switched games to Ghost in the Graveyard. Games! Yes, they were playing games that I played at that age. After all his friends departed for the night, my son came in and thanked me for the BBQ and said ‘and thanks for taking the phones.’ There was still a part of me that wondered if he would be angry or embarrassed at my Phone Roundup. So I asked him why he was thanking me. His response was this:
Well, we were all hanging out together but after you took the phones, we were REALLY together. We stopped snapping and texting friends that weren’t here and we were just hanging out and talking, which was awesome. I forgot how fun Ghost in the Graveyard is!
Kids need tech free time. We all need tech free time. Just like having tech free space in the home, creating tech free time for your family can be part of your digital road map that you may have previously created. Tech free time for the family can be scheduled on a regular basis, like every Sunday evening from 7pm-9pm. Or it can also be less scheduled but on a regular basis, like once a month. Whatever works for your family. Similar to tech free space, the key to success is that EVERYONE in the family should go tech free during this time.
One thing to consider is how TV fits into this plan. My daughter is quick to remind me that TV is technology and it should not be used during tech free time. So sometimes we will play some board games or play some game outside. Nobody is forced to play games. People can do what they want to do during this time. For us, the only requirement is that technology is put down for that window of time. What generally happens is that everyone ends up coming together at some point and interacting.
It sounds so simple. The reality is that the first few times we suggested tech free time in the house, it was met with resistance by my children. My daughter actually asked, with great dismay, ‘What will we do?’ as if there is nothing to do if technology is eliminated for a few hours. However, as all of us adjusted to putting phones down and not reacting to every buzz and beep of a snap or text, we all started to enjoy the freedom of being disconnected for a few hours. My sons’ snaps and texts were still there 2 hours later and my daughter realized that there are many things to do that do not involve a screen!