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07.06.11

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Are We There Yet?

Five ways to help your family take an offline break

By Steve Bennett


Most of us live in the digital fast lane, surrounded by devices that keep us connected 24/7, extend our work capabilities, help us stay informed and provide on-demand entertainment. The downside is that technology dominates our lives; we're plugged in from the moment we wake until the moment we go to sleep, checking emails, following Tweets, updating our Facebook pages, reading news and so on. If we're awake, we're on.

We need time away from our devices to reflect and sit face-to-face with family members and friends, which simply means carving out some nondigital time. Here are five ways to help your family members break the "always on" habit:

1. Be a role model. Show your kids that your smartphone is not a life-support device and that you can go for a stretch of time without it. When you come home from work and sit down to decompress, don't reach for your phone to check email or instant messages.

2. Make the dinner table a "no-tech zone." No jumping up from the table to check email or answer the phone, either. Remember, it begins with you; let your family members see you ignore your phone or message alert tone without starting to sweat; that speaks volumes. (Better yet, keep your devices out of hearing range during the meal.)

3. Have a family reading night. Try to set aside an hour a week in the evening when everyone can read in the same room. This can be difficult with older kids during the school year because of homework and school commitments, but you'll be setting an example.

4. Introduce no-tech/low-tech family activities. Younger kids will appreciate a game night during which you spend half an hour or an hour doing traditional board games or easy activities—word games, guessing games, treasure hunts. Teens can get engrossed in charade-style games, word tile games or board games.

5. Make a game of going nondigital. Challenge everyone to get unplugged for a specified time on a given day. If going cold turkey is too much for your household, narrow down the challenge. You might also attach a prize, a special outing if everyone hits the target.

How will the idea of taking nondigital breaks go over in your family? That depends on whether it's perceived as a plus or punishment, how drastic the changes are for your household and how quickly you implement your "program." There is one caution about taking breaks to smell the real roses, though: it's very habit forming.

Steve Bennett is the founder of AuthorBytes and co-author of 101 Offline Activities You Can Do with Your Child (BPT Press). Visit him online at www.offlineactivities.com.


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