Five Ways to Break Your Kids’ Screen Addiction (and Yours, Too)
We’d just crested the ridge at 6,000 feet when I decided to find a nice soft spot to lie down and die. I thought I might just sleep until the snow arrived and turned me into a Popsicle. But I had my 15-year-old daughter with me, and one of us had to act like the adult.
This was our annual “unplugging” trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, and it wasn’t going so well. As usual, my 17-year-old son had charged up the trail and was already at the lodge sipping hot cocoa. We hadn’t seen my wife for over an hour; she was hiking to the beat of a different drummer. But dad and daughter were feeling the full weight of the seven-mile, 4,000-foot ascent.
Then the phone inside my backpack bleeped. A text message had managed to find me in the middle of nowhere. It was from my wife: “Where r u guys?”
Every year we make a pilgrimage to LeConte Lodge, a dozen cabins at the top of the Smokies accessible only by foot, with no electricity, no Internet, and — theoretically, at least — no cell coverage. (Technically, if you stand in precisely the right spot near the bathrooms you can send and receive texts. That’s where she was when she sent her message.)
The idea was to separate ourselves from technology for at least 24 hours. When we first did this four or five years ago it was relatively easy. Now, not so much. Wireless networks have gotten so powerful that we got 4G coverage more than halfway up the mountain. And we’ve become so dependent on our phones for music, entertainment, maps, and more that none of us could bear to leave our handsets behind.
We did finally manage to unplug, however … when our batteries ran out.
We’re not the only parents concerned about our collective obsession with technology. You were probably too busy looking at your phone to notice, but last week was “Screen-Free Week.” The campaign, which has been running in one form or another since the early 1990s, encourages kids to rediscover fun things to do that don’t involve electronics, says Josh Golin, director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood that oversees it.
Last month, spoken word artist Gary Turk posted a five-minute video to YouTube titled “Look Up” that urged us to stop tapping on our devices and start talking to one another.
That video is a bit preachy for my tastes, but it has struck a chord: It has been watched more than 32 million times.