Take a moment and look around. People watch for just a moment or two, at the store, at work, at a restaurant, even in your own home. Notice 85-90% of the people have a cell phone in their hand and are looking down. Looking down, making no eye contact with the person sitting with them, the person walking towards them, or anyone else. Everyone is guilty of being constantly distracted by their smartphones. Whether its Facebook, Twitter, Email, Instagram, Pinterest, Snap Chat, you name it, we are all guilty of one or another. I personally and completely addicted to Pinterest and I am constantly on Twitter & Instagram trying to keep our business fresh in the “news feeds” so we are out there everyday. Like most typical families, when at home, our children are usually in their rooms and we are typically in studio working, resting from filming or cleaning. The girls are in their rooms watching Netflix or Hulu Plus, our son is enjoying his Xbox. All three with an iPhone or iPod not far from their reach. Between YouTube videos, texting, taking selfies for Instagram or SnapChat, we had to ban cell phones from the dinner table just so we could have normal conversations like a family. Like we used to have when we were growing up and everyone sat down for dinner.
We recently went on a mid-September family vacation to the Jersey Shore. A quiet, beautiful serene beach in the tiny beach town of Strathmere. We are so busy filming during the spring and editing during the summer that we rarely get time away with our three growing teenagers. So this year, realizing our years are numbered with all three of them at home, we took them out of school for the week and headed north. There were mixed reviews from our kids on missing a week of school, but nonetheless everyone a little excited to just get away. Little did the kids know our intent was to go…UNPLUGGED!! Thats right no phones, no video games, nothing but board games, the beach, family walks, family dinners, family lunches, and a couple movies. Even Chris and I left our phones on the counter and only checked our business emails a couple times a day. The only selfies taken on this trip were with our “regular old” digital camera! No fancy iPhone or iPod.
When the children were sat down and told of our plan to reconnect as a family and go unplugged, their faces were priceless. Two were okay with it, as they don’t normally go against many decisions we make. Our oldest, our feisty 16 year old had apparently just been asked to donate her left arm because her life was now over for the next week. At 16, having instant access to selfies and texting are a must to survive. After a little pouting, it was all okay. We tried to explain to the children that being connected as a family is important, and that just because we are all often in the same home, it does not mean we are really all together.
It was so nice to play many games of Uno, a game of Clue (The Office edition of course), Monopoly, and Connect Four. We took almost daily walks on the beach even tho it was a little chilly. We spent two of the warmest days on the beach just relaxing, getting a little sun, doing a little body boarding and throwing the football around. At night, a family dinner, home cooked items of the kids choosing that we do not typically have at home. A couple movie nights to pass the time together and enjoy some movies we all had not had a chance to see yet. (By the way The Peebles by Tyler Perry, good movie with lots & lots of laughs, if you haven’t seen it, you should) We even took bike rides around the small town of Strathmere. Chris and the girls took a ride one night for over an hour and a half. They traveled south to a neighboring town of Sea Isle City and back.
What we noticed most about being unplugged is how much fun can be had when all five of us don’t have our heads down, looking at our phones and not really listening and making eye contact with each other. I noticed when taking walks, that even our kids greeted the other people we passed with a smile and courteous “Hi” or “Hello”. At home, they would have not even noticed those other people on the street because they would have been immersed in their own world on their phones/ipods. We recaptured the ability to have conversations and joke around as a family. We recaptured the appreciation for how each of our growing teenagers are so different, such individuals and are getting older and growing into young adults.
Growing up in the 70’s-80’s, Chris and I come from a time where, you played outside till dark, rode your bikes everywhere, had to use the house phone in the kitchen (on the wall with the long cord) and had to listen to whatever station your parents chose in the car. (Until the almighty walkman in the 80’s, then you just had to have enough batteries!!) There were no distractions when you went to a family function or when your family sat down for dinner or sat down to watch tv. Nowadays, its a constant struggle to keep someones attention because they are always afraid they are missing something else on their phone while you are trying to talk to them.
It was an experience, and while there were challenges as it was a change, the fact that our youngest said “We should have one night a week that we all go Unplugged when we get back home” tells me it was a much needed break. A much needed break from home, work and from ourselves and social media. I would encourage all of our friends, clients and associates to try it. Especially if you have children, this is the most precious time and we teach them to be a family by the example we set. There are so many lessons to learn, as a parent, as a child, as a human being. I truly believe learning to know when to pull the plug on social media and take a “time out” and go Unplugged, is an incredibly valuable lesson. You will not regret the time spent, free time to just breath and really take it all in with out any distractions.