Unplug: How Device-Free Time Fosters Better Connection

. February 28, 2019.
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Free time spent unplugged can make a big difference in how our families feel emotionally and physically when it comes to nurturing our most important relationships. Here’s why: Increased self-awareness. Time alone or unplugged helps us pursue personal interests and develop more clarity about who and what we want in our lives. That sense of self-reliance, confidence and independence comes through in how we interact with others. We’re better able to advocate for our needs and for others because we’ve taken time to contemplate and clearly understand those needs.

Better sleep. We can’t focus on others when we’re sleep deprived. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 72 percent of children ages six to 17 sleep with electronics in their bedroom. The lights and sounds these devices emit disrupt quality sleep and can result in up to an hour of sleep loss per night. Remove electronics from the bedrooms of both you and your children.

More attentive connection. A 2013 study in the journal of Environment and Behavior suggests that by simply having your phone sitting on the table or in your hand during a conversation, you reduce the quality of your interaction. Stash your phone away during face-to-face conversation. And consider choosing one day a week where the whole family takes a “Digital Sabbath”, a 24-hour break from technology.

“The Sabbath increases your ability to concentrate on cool intricate tasks, to experience and appreciate the uniqueness of particular moments, to focus more on the people around you,” writes Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his book The Distraction Addiction. “Paying attention is critical for relationships.”

Improved mental health. Attempting to address text messages, online interactions, phone calls and emails in the midst of family demands can cause stress and anxiety. “Chronic distractions erode your sense of having control of your life,” Pang says.

Increase your sense of calm by focusing on one task or person at a time. And occasionally play hooky from extracurricular activities, which teaches kids that it’s ok to honor their individual needs for rest and disengagement.

More play time. Free, unplugged play gives kids a chance to put their imaginations to work and try new ideas. Instead of telling them something won’t work or supplying answers to their questions, let them investigate, research ideas and experiment with materials on their own.

Multiple studies show that kids, who receive regular, unstructured time to play, develop creativity, self-confidence, problem-solving skills and independence.

Enhanced curiosity. Researchers from Brown University recently found that the more time kids spend watching TV, using their smartphones or playing video games, the less likely they are to show initiative with other projects and interests and complete tasks like homework. Even more worrisome, they exhibit less curiosity and interest in learning overall.

Screen-free time gives us all a chance to consider questions like: What am I curious about? How can I solve a problem I’m dealing with? What brings me joy? Who could I talk to about this?

Richer conversations. For many young adults, spontaneous conversation, where they can’t control the message in a text or email, feels too intense or risky. Play conversation games like “What if…” or “Would you rather…” to make impromptu conversation fun and interesting. Establish sacred, unplugged spaces, like around the dinner table and in the car, to allow for spontaneous conversation.

Side-by-side conversation feels less intense and gives kids the courage to broach issues that are bugging or worrying them. Grab the crayons and color together. Go on a walk. With space and uninterrupted conversation opportunities, you can listen to each other better and grow closer as a family.