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Families: Take time to disconnect
March 8, 2018

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By Jodi L. Smith and Stephanie Deem

Families are more plugged in now than ever before with televisions, tablets, laptops, gaming systems, cell phones, both parents and kids are completely connected to technology in one form or another. They are also more connected to each other now than ever before.

Parents want to keep their children safe from harm. In an effort to protect their children, many parents have become "helicopter parents." The term "helicopter parent" defines a parent who "pays extremely close attention to his or her child or children, particularly at educational institutions." The reason for the term "helicopter parent" is because like helicopters, parents hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach whether their children need them or not. The term has been around for many years, but the cell phone and today's technology have made helicopter parenting even more prevalent in our society, often lasting into the college years. As a result, many young adults are not prepared for college, postsecondary training, or the workforce, and often do not know how to handle situations on their own.

This need for constant communication has turned into what some are referring to as a cell phone addiction or a device dependency. In a recent poll, 80 percent of teens say they check their phones at least hourly, and 72 percent say they feel an immediate need to respond to any texts or social media messages. In the same poll conducted by Common Sense Media, 59 percent of parents of 12-18 year olds said they felt their teens were addicted to technology. More than 50 percent of teens themselves feel addicted to technology. In many other countries internet addiction is becoming widely recognized as a public health threat.

However, it has not been labeled as such in the United States. Addiction or not, it is clear that teens have a problem with too much technology. But are teens the only ones who can't put their phones down? And how often are teens encouraged to be constantly connected so parents can keep close tabs on them? Parents might complain, but they also have a problem with unplugging. Twenty-seven percent of parents say they feel they are addicted to their cell phones, and 69 percent check their devices at least hourly. And much like the teens, 56 percent feel an immediate need to respond to texts and social media messages.

Perhaps more alarming is the fact that 56 percent of parents admitted to using mobile devices while driving with their kids in the car, and 51 percent of teens say they see their parents checking their phones while driving. This trend is not only dangerous and deadly, but is also setting a terrible example for our children. This same research conducted by Common Sense Media found that teens spend an average of nine or more hours a day on some type of technology. This is making face-to-face conversation increasingly difficult for teenagers. Many studies find that teens today are seriously lacking social skills.

Summer Camps have become a place where children are encouraged to learn face-to-face conversation and to get back to nature unplug if you will. Many camps, as many as 90 percent of camps, have a strict no cell phone policy or some sort of cell phone/technology policy that limits the use of such devices in an effort to teach the communication skills that today's youth are lacking.

Many summer camps pride themselves on offering children the opportunity to learn independence and decision making. Parents send their children to camp to disconnect from technology and connect with nature. However, many parents are breaking the rules and sending their children to summer camps with cell phones even if they are not permitted. According to an article written by Stephen Fine, PhD, "Cell phones have a real purpose in our fast paced-lives. That purpose has much to do with security, the communication of ever changing schedules and the "comfort" to children and their parents and guardians of instant impeded contact anytime anywhere." In other words, cell phones have helped the helicopter parent continue to hover in places where children use to be able to experience independence.

Fine asks the question, "What purpose is served by sending a cell phone into camp?" Camps offer trained staff with 24-hour supervision, and the sole purpose of camp is to connect kids with nature, teach social skills, and to help youth make new friends. Fine believes that it is the need for constant communication that prompts parents to send their child to camp with a cell phone regardless of camp policy.

So how do we unplug? How do we teach our teens the importance of unplugging? With such staggering statistics out there, families need to make deliberate attempts to disconnect from technology every day. Experts say that with constant new information coming at us all of the time through technology, we have to set limits for ourselves and teach our children to do the same. We have to not only unplug once in a while from technology, but also unplug once in a while from each other.

Suggestions to help us disconnect:

Limit amount of social media posts to 3-5 times a week

Set limits to the amount of times a day you check social media

Take a walk, jog, ride a bike, and leave your phone in your pocket or at home

Resist the urge to check your emails and messages after work leave work at work

Make it a rule to put the phone down during meal time

Have specific times when you check your social media and email every day

Turn off social media notifications on your cell phone

Turn off email notifications to reduce the urge to check it constantly

Put the phone in another room at night (this one can be especially hard for teens, so starting out at a young age with this rule is imperative)

Give teens a chance to experience life without a constant connection by not constantly checking in or monitoring their every move with technology

Have specific check in times for teens and resist the urge to call before the agreed upon time

If you send your teen to summer camp and there is a no cell phone policy, trust your teen and the staff at camp to contact you if there is an issue

Perhaps the most important thing we can do to help our teens disconnect or unplug from time to time is to set the example. Make it a point to talk to your teen about cell phones and limitations. Don't ask your teen to do something you're not willing to do yourself. Put your phone down while driving, during dinner, and during family time. Teens will always be more receptive to rules when they apply to everyone.

Resources:

Fine, Stephen. "To Pack or Not To Pack the Cell Phones." Camp Woodmont, 2 May 2017, www.campwoodmont.com/articles/to-pack-or-not-to-pack-the-cell-phones.

"Helicopter Parent." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helicopter-parent.

Jodi L. Smith is a WVU Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development. Stephanie Deem is a WVU Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development.

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