Technology often helps families connect in ways that were not possible previously, but the addictive nature of phones, apps, and games can mean that family outings and family dinners are spent more often with our phones than with each other.
This problem is not generational—and often, parents and children alike can stumble into the habit of using their phones and computers instead of each other for advice, fellowship, and understanding.
Severity and discipline may work in the short term, but to cultivate a familial decision to shift away from technology and unplug in the long term, we need to work of finding solutions that are effective, beneficial, and fun.
We’ll be going over several ideas that you can try out with your family to minimize technology and begin to cultivate better relationships.
A classic staple of many homes, both in the media and outside of it, includes having a family game night.
Games promote interactivity, competitiveness, and camaraderie with family members—so it’s no wonder many families set aside a day each week to play board games and enjoy each other’s company.
To keep things interesting, try allowing a different family member to choose a different game to play each night. Don’t feel limited to board games, either. If your family is more active, be sure to try out outdoor activities or heading down to the local park to enjoy each other’s company.
While it may seem antithetical to unplugging as a whole, don’t be so quick to rule out video games as well.
Video games are often connected to the Internet and usually involves a single person interacting with somebody else on the other side of the world. However, not all video games are created equal.
Cooperative and multiplayer party games will allow your children to continue to interact with the technology they love—in a manner that involves playing with family, not some unseen third party. Whether or not video games will work during the family game night will vary from family to family, so use your best judgment here.
Regardless, a family game night is an efficient and classic method for keeping the family off of the computer and interacting with each other. Just try not to get too competitive.
Technology Collection Box
During a family game night, or perhaps during other sanctioned hours of the day, it can be beneficial to create a technology collection box.
The concept is simple—whenever your family agrees to unplug or remove themselves from technology, every phone, tablet, computer, and television remote goes into a collection box to be placed aside until the time is up.
One of the most common failures of the technology collection box comes from parents—and not children. By allowing certain family members (often adults) to either keep phones on hand or outright use the technology while the rest of the family is limited, you’re creating an environment that can easily be perceived as unfair.
To make sure your technology collection box is working, you’re going to need to approach it as an all or nothing deal—either every member of the family participates, or no one does. This way, nobody can cry foul about any unfair rules, and more time can be focused on spending time with each other.
If technology must be kept close at hand, consider placing the technology collection box nearby and leaving your phone on. It may not be an elegant solution but will serve to function well in times of emergency or need.
Otherwise, leave the box several rooms away or even in a car if possible. Rules apply equally to all family members and the further out of sight your technology is, the further the technology will remain out of mind.
During hours that your family agrees to leave technology in a technology collection box, cooking or eating a meal together could be another way to keep children occupied and conversation focused on each other.
There’s much to be gained by sitting and eating a meal together—and in many cultures, the act of eating together is intimately connected with social values and relationships alike.
If your children are old enough, also consider allowing them to be a part of the process of making the meal. Younger kids can help out by mixing ingredients and gathering silverware, while other kids can help cook certain parts of the meal.
The key here is to create communion—so don’t be afraid to allow a little bit of technology in the form of music that everyone enjoys or likes! Create an environment that allows for discussion, debate, and understanding.
You don’t have to have a technology collection box to have a family meal. Simply keep a firm “no technology” policy when it comes to the dinner table. As always, this rule has to apply to the adults as well to keep effective. We’re trying to create familial bonding, so each family member has to work together as a team.
Perhaps the easiest way for families to promote unplugging and disconnecting without punishments and rules would be to travel outside the home and enjoy time in the wilderness.
You don’t have to be a hiker, either—as many local parks and national parks alike offer trails and short walks that provide scenic views while maintaining ease of access.
On the subject of nationals parks—if you live close to several parks that come with fees to access federally protected lands, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful pass or similar seasonal pass.
These cost about the same as visiting two parks, so if you’re going to commit to using the outdoors as a means to get your family outside, consider cementing that commitment with ease of access.
Beyond stunning trails and scenic views, many parks offer camping and recreational areas that will allow you to expend your trip beyond a few hours. Consider embarking on a “technology free weekend” and set up a mini-vacation for your family to enjoy the great outdoors.
These trips away will promote discussion and keep your family together—and provide you with the much-needed benefits of spending more time outside and in nature.
Create Technology Free Zones
Expanding upon the concept of the “technology collection box,” you may be able to implement technology-free zones in your home as a substitute or as a secondary rule. This concept can take on many forms.
The most obvious application would be to eliminate technology in certain rooms of the home that seem the struggle the most with excessive technology usage. Consider removing the television from the living room and creating a space that’s focused on the discussion—not the TV.
The kitchen is the second most common choice and can work just as well as a general “no technology” rule or a technology collection box rule. However, where technology-free zones excel is in the bedroom.
As adults, keeping your cell phone close by for emergencies of for quick contact with your children creates a peace of mind that’s understandable and often smart. Where this practice becomes an issue, however, is when phones are the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we see at night.
Consider moving phone chargers either into the bathroom or in a room that’s used by all people. You may also want to set up a “check-in” system and make sure the family’s cell phones all end up in the same place before each person is cleared for bed. This location can either be locked by a parent or in a section of the house that’s inaccessible to children.
Technology free zones aren’t limited to the home, either. Making your car a technology-free zone can encourage discussion and activity during long car trips. Relative’s homes or other places where technology hurts more than it helps may also be considered when making this switch.
Before you do so, try to have an open and honest conversation about technology-free zones with each member of the family before implementing them. Explain your reasoning behind the choices you’ve made, and clarify that the rules will apply equally to all family members. If you need to make exceptions, now is the time to do so.
Talk to your children and other members of your family about other areas that can be made a technology-free zone like the front or backyard. You may find that others have suggestions and ideas that hadn’t been considered.
Integrating the above rules into the home often means having to play the bad guy—constantly checking in on others to make sure they’re following the rules, and issuing out punishments to ensure compliance.
Instead of outright rejecting technology or fearing its infiltration into your home, consider using Disney’s Circle system to manage devices and track time spent online for you.
Disney’s Circle works via a combined hardware and software package that connects to your WiFi antenna and tracks devices that remain connected to the software. Using Circle, you’ll be able to monitor which websites and which applications each family member is using.
Circle allows for greater control and leverage over the devices in your home and can control each device’s settings as opposed to setting blanket rules and exceptions. That means allowing older children to access applications or websites that younger children won’t be able to.
The service also provides families with the ability to wholesale pause Internet activity during certain hours or throughout the night. This feature is especially useful for families that utilize a “check-in” system with devices. This way, there’s nothing to fear about children climbing out of bed and using devices while you’re sleeping.
Circle also comes with time limits—which are also controlled by the individual device. These limits can be especially helpful for parents that struggle with using their phones too often.
Certainly, the owner and operator of Circle will be able to circumnavigate their way past the blockage—but that extra step and reminder could help to wean parents off of the need to constantly be on their devices.
Since Circle is affiliated with Disney, children will be able to access games and shows through the MyCircle application.
Disney’s Circle could be a powerful tool to integrate with your other rules, so consider the benefits of the product and ways you can use the product to aid in the prevention of technology over-saturation.
Unplugging and disconnecting from the Internet and associated technologies will not be easy. These lifestyle changes will need to be implemented and pursued by every member of the family to succeed, so communication is key.
Before, during, and after transitioning into unplugging, retain transparency with your young ones and get them excited about making the switch. Offer rewards–like more time spent in their favorite parks and outdoor locations to show them the benefits of a disconnected lifestyle.
Likewise, focus on these benefits yourself and keep questioning whether or not certain technologies are right for your family. Some will be able to manage better than others, and each journey will require overcoming its respective hills and valleys.
We hope that we’ve provided you with some actionable tips when it comes to taking steps against the overabundance of technology in your home. Beside to develop a relationship with phones, computers, and other devices that respects and acknowledges their value in a modern society—while also limiting their influence over other aspects of your life.
You’re going to have to want this lifestyle change—and with enough motivation, perseverance, and dedication, that desire can be instilled in anyone. All you have to do is try.