Youth Culture Window

Taking a Break from Tech


Doing What Needs to be Done with Smartphones
David R Smith

Last week, I was the speaker at a Christian camp where several hundred students gathered from various states across the northeast. When I learned that this camp had a “no phone policy,” I was intrigued…and a bit nervous. Would there be mutiny in the dining hall? Outbreaks of violence in the cabins?

Nope, not at all. In fact, the teens seemed completely happy.

Just like 93% of their peers around the nation….

Surprised? Don’t be. In late June, a survey was released that claimed 93% of 11- to 16-year-olds who’d gone to an overnight camp where smartphone use was prohibited “felt relieved by not being able to use social media.” Think about that for a moment! Instead of rioting, the teens were relieved! In fact, campers went on the record and made some encouraging observations:

  • 92% felt as though they got to know others better because they weren’t glued to a screen.
  • 57% witnessed lower levels of bullying in the absence of social media enabled devices.
  • 51% thought there was less drama for the same reason.
  • 44% heard less gossip than normal.

OK, Mom and Dad, listen to me closely. This data is certainly good news…but it doesn’t mean you can round up your kids’ phones and toss them into the nearest volcano! There’s a huge difference between “taking an occasional break” from smartphones and “permanently deporting your kids back to the 1950s!” But in a world where American parents are now hiring “coaches” to help their kids limit screen time and Italian parents may soon be able to send their phone-addicted teens to rehab, I don’t think it’s crazy to proactively experiment with some “planned interruptions” of smartphone use in our homes…especially given teens’ positive responses to the unplanned interruptions at summer camps. Maybe something like this:

  1. Designate regular breaks. Obviously, you’ll have to figure out what works best for your family, but here are some really simple ideas to get you thinking about all the possibilities. Maybe you choose one evening per week to be “phone-free.” Maybe it’s even one weekend a month. Of course, the breaks could be associated with “place” instead of “time.” In other words, you might choose to make the dinner table a gadget-less space (which is always a good call). You might also want to try and capitalize on morning car rides to school. Again, this is completely customizable; just remember to come to this decision as a family.
  2. Fill the time with one another. In case this doesn’t go without saying, don’t just substitute one screen for another (such as putting down a cell phone and flipping on a TV to Netflix). Nor should you just sit on the couch and stare awkwardly at each other. Go play putt-putt. Hold a family Bible study. Go for a walk. Take a road trip to at least three Mexican restaurants in search of your town’s best taco. Make sure to invest some thought into this time so your family will be anticipating what next week’s break will include.
  3. Open up a healthy dialogue about screens. If you come across an article about phones in the bedroom, maybe read a paragraph at dinner and ask your kids, “So is this something you’ve noticed?” If screens or social media become an issue in your house, maybe it’s time to catch some one-on-one time with your kid and go through a book on the subject. Keep the communication channels open.
  4. Abide by the rules you enforce. Again, just in case this needs to be said, practice what you preach. If your family agrees to one hour every Tuesday evening, you absolutely must lead by example. If you’re sneaking in texts/emails/Pinterest searches during this time, they’re going to feel cheated. Looking back on last week’s camp, one of the reasons the policy was such a blessing was because it was adopted by everyone. None of the campers had phones, but neither did the counselors or staff. Everybody was “in it” together. Everyone was free to enjoy the lake, the activities, and the face-to-face time with one another. If you have any hope of shifting phone habits in your home, you must be willing to abide by the same standard(s) you’re trying to implement.

Taking intentional and small breaks like these have been a blessing to our family for years. With the right amount of tweaking, this strategy can serve your family the same way.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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