From plugged in to unplugged: Happier healthy children

Posted: June 24, 2014

Traveling offers the opportunity to observe families in restaurants, in airports, and on public transportation. Unsurprisingly, what is observed are people glued to some kind of technological device. No eye contact, no conversation, no playful interactions, and looking alone within the family.

The Kaiser Foundation’s research (Kaiser 2010) reveals some scary information about one age group: Eight- to eighteen-year-olds use electronics an average of seven hours and thirty-eight minutes across a typical day. This adds up to more than fifty-three hours a week that are devoted to the use of media entertainment of some sort, and more if you count multi-tasking.

Catherine Steiner-Adair spent four years of research on her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. During interviews with younger children, she found “A lot of the disappointment involves kids giving up. Little moments of promises broken, of feeling let down. 'Dad was supposed to read with me. Mom said she'd play a board game.'" Steiner-Adair writes, "Teens offer an older version of the same yearning: 'I don't see why Mom can't just not take a call when we're talking — she's always telling me that's what I'm supposed to do. I know Dad's busy, but it's like nothing I do is important enough to really matter to him.'"

What information can be found about how to work toward an unplugged world? It is suggested to start with just an hour a day and work up to more time. This should be time when the family all can be together, to play, to talk, or to prepare and eat a meal together while completely undisturbed by anyone not presently with you.

One of the best times to do this is when you are in the car with your children. For the younger ones, tell stories, play I Spy, listen to their chatter. With older children, talk about a movie you all saw or a book they have read. Ask open-ended questions about their day, such as asking what interesting fact was learned in history that day.

Pick a time and place for the unplugged hour. As soon as you do you may find your family challenging one another to stay away from technology for even longer to do things together. Some families start to garden, or take walks in the woods, or even play old fashioned card and board games. Reading together gives everyone something to talk about. Families can try something new together.

Remember: Children need your attention. “When you pick your children up, don't be on the phone. Your kids want to know that you are, in fact, excited to see them. And in that moment, they need your eye contact. They need you to smile. They need you to listen and not say, 'one sec,' not be put on hold.” (Shamus 2013) Unplug for a happier, healthy family and children.


Contact Information

Cynthia Pollich, MS Ed
  • Extension Associate:Food,Families & Health
Phone: 717-394-6851