Powering off

Technology has a way of taking over family time. It starts innocently enough. Someone—maybe you—checks an e-mail, opens a laptop, answers a text, fires up a video game or pulls out a set of headphones. Before you know it, your family is busy interacting with devices and not each other.

Are these gadgets improving or undermining your family? Find out by taking a"tech vacation.” Summer is a great time to do it because disconnecting won’t put schoolwork at risk and people accept"I was on vacation” as a reason for being out of touch.

Start by designing a family experiment to see what it feels like to be unplugged. Decide on a time frame. Some families start by turning off all interactive devices (including the TV) at a specific time each day. Or stretch the experiment and plan an Unplugged Day or even an entire week.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your tech vacation:

Plan ahead. Adults need to tell clients and co-workers when they will be"off the clock.” Teens might also want to warn friends that they are going offline. The comments and reactions they get can be part of the experiment.

Notice emotions. Many people initially feel anxious when they are disconnected from interactive devices. Thinking about what you might be missing is part of the withdrawal process.

Collect props. Children who are accustomed to spending all their time with gadgets may be at a loss for what to do. Pull out board games, puzzles, construction toys and art supplies. Give older children a sketch pad or a notebook so they can record their feelings. Or start a family journal in which everyone makes notes about how the vacation is going.

Share a project. Plan an activity that requires family members to cooperate to reach a goal. If possible, do something outdoors. Go for a hike. Paddle a canoe to a picnic destination.

Take stock. At the end of your tech vacation, discuss what each person enjoyed about being unplugged. Which devices and experiences were missed most and why? Some family members may be excited about"found” time and new powers of concentration. Others may realize that being unplugged actually enriches their family connections.

In either case, use your new insights to reconfigure family time so everyone gets both the benefits of interactive technology and the rewards of being off the grid. If you do that, your tech vacation will create the contentment that comes from knowing that you—and not your interactive devices—are making decisions about what’s best for your family.

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