I was looking forward to the holidays as a time to relax and unwind. And with my husband and I working so much, we hoped to reconnect with her three kids 11, 14 and 17. The fact is, they just want to be on their iPads and computers. If you walk into our house after dinner, you'll see five people each staring at a screen. When we do pick up a book to try to inspire our kids to do the same, they just roll their eyes. How can I get my family to unplug and spend some down time together?
Thousands of parents can relate to your dilemma. By the end of the year, we are all ready for a pause in our routine. For many, mindlessly plugging into a device has become synonymous with relaxation. Here are my thoughts.
1. Call a moratorium.
Kids naturally want to enjoy themselves as much as possible, and digital devices offer an endless variety of entertainment. It's unreasonable to expect your kids to voluntarily unplug. Let them know that for a particular span of time, say Tuesday through Thursday, your family is going to go offline and that you understand they may be upset, anxious or even outraged. Talk about why it's important to you, acknowledging their anger without lecturing or scolding and discuss alternatives -- things you might do independently or together during that time.
2. Have a conversations about how you became so entwined with your devices
Use your unplugged time to talk openly as a family about what has led each of you to rely so heavily on your online relationships and activities In favor of living more in the 3-D world. What do they feel they'll miss out on if they're offline? Social ostracism? Boredom? Allow the conversation to get deep and real; you may find out a lot about how your kids are doing, if you stay quiet and listen.
3. Consider how your availability influences your kids to visit their online world. If your children feel you're always busy or that your attention is consistently divided between them and your smartphone, they will become accustomed to looking for a sense of human connection in cyberspace.
4. Acknowledge the challenges of going offline.
These days, it's hard to be unplugged. From finding out who's bringing what to Christmas dinner to checking the weather, our devices have become seemingly essential tools to our ability to function in life. Let your kids know that you understand it's hard to unplug, and share the challenges you personally face during your moratorium.
5. Become a magnet.
Remember the saying: you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink? There's an add on: You can salt the horse's food and make him thirsty! You aren't likely to do very well if you try to force your teens to have a rollicking good time at family game night, but if they get a taste of your enjoyment of them throughout the day -- a smile, a shared joke, a quick shoulder rub -- they may find themselves mysteriously drawn to the family room when you bring out Monopoly or Rumis (one of my personal favorites.)
Congratulations for trying to step off of the hamster wheel of the digital world. Be patient, stay present and accepting through the tough moments, and enjoy your family!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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