The holidays are upon us, and I've taken a few days off work to enjoy with my family. So here's something I don't want to see much of in the coming weeks: The top of my child's head as he hovers over the iPhone, a game, or yet another viral video.
While it's fun to connect with family via social media, movies, and games -- and believe me, there will be plenty of that going on anyway -- it's great to unplug for a while and enjoy some old-fashioned analog time together. You know, make eye contact, listen to each other's voices, and engage in the physical world.
Unplugged time is time spent more slowly and intentionally. It's time we can use to build authentic relationships without the mitigating filter of media. It may be a little uncomfortable, but it's always good to get out of your comfort zone and grow a little.
I think we parents know all that, though. The trick is how to make it happen with the least amount of resistance and angst from your family members. A good place to start is by involving your kids in the planning process (to the degree that makes sense for their respective ages). Hopefully the idea of unplugging isn't too hard a sell in the first place! But knowing that they have some say in the matter will get you more buy-in, especially with older kids.
How long should you unplug? Every day for two hours? Just Christmas day? It's up to you and what you think is right for your family. Try not to be too ambitious -- for example, going for two weeks without electronics, cold turkey, might be a bit extreme and hard to carry out.
Another alternative could be designating screen-free zones in your home -- spaces where electronics are off limits.
Make sure the unplugged rules apply to everyone -- even parents. This means no checking work emails! If you're not sure you can comply and still remained employed, talk with your family about how you can still set limits without putting your career in peril. But seriously, are you SURE you can't go for a couple hours each day without checking in with the office? Give it some thought. Keep in mind, it's hard to convince your kids to commit to an action you're unwilling to take yourself.
Now that you've designated your screen-free time and space, what are you going to do with it? While you're planning what you're not going to do, be sure and talk about what you are going to do. Think of board games you haven't played in ages, sledding, walks, bike rides, singing carols, baking, reading, doing origami. Let everyone come up with an activity or two they'd like to try with the whole family -- and maybe a few just on their own. Sometimes a little stare-at-the-wall time can give your brain the refresher it needs.
Once you've enjoyed some unplugged time together you may actually want to try it again. Don't worry -- this is normal, and you don't even have to wait for another holiday. I jest, but hopefully this is the start to a regular practice for your family. It just takes this first step. Good luck -- I'll be trying it this holiday season as well.