Saturday, October 28, 2017

Parenting Pointers: Unplugging and Connecting

Mobile phone and technology use creating a great divide in family communication and interaction: 95% of all Americans own some type of mobile phone and throughout the day; consumers look at their phones 47 times, with those aged 18 to 24 looking at their phones 82 times daily (full study here)

Tech use among youngsters is limiting their availability to communicate with their parents: when children were engrossed in technology when a parent arrived home from work, that parent was only greeted 30% of the time, and was totally ignored 50% of the time. (data here)

Joe DeRing, founder of Empower Adventures, says today’s ever-plugged in society is infringing on families’ quality time together.

Even when families are at home together, they tend to spend more time emailing and texting each other than speaking with each other. Children who are immersed in technology are less familiar, less comfortable and more insecure with their parents, and they also feel less loved by their parents. (source)

Per DeRing, establishing a balanced use of screen time is key, and taking time to unplug from technology is imperative for engaging with family members and rebuilding the family foundation.

Empower Adventures provides activities that empower families to revive their relationships while enjoying an unforgettable experience together. Families can choose from 3 locations:
  • Tampa Bay, Florida offers a guided zip line course that provides 11 unique activities, including a walk across the 200-foot suspension bridge giving visitors a bird’s-eye view above Tampa Bay.
  • Middletown, Connecticut helps families discover a sense of adventure and explore the great outdoors while zip lining on the only true treetop canopy tour in Connecticut. Families can also create amazing memories by tree climbing and rappelling, or during map and compass scavenger hunt treks.
  • Middleburg, Virginia’s Empower Adventures helps families unite and get back to nature during treetop zip lining tours, rappelling adventures and survival challenges. 

DeRing says for families looking to fill the connection void and bridge the gap that technology is creating, adventurous activities are ideal for reconnection.

He explains that outdoor adventures offer the benefit of physical exercise, boosting confidence and family bonding. He notes that, “Fall is the perfect time of year for families to take a break from their wired lives and take a family adventure in the great outdoors.”

I had a chance to interview Maureen DeRing, co-founder, to learn more.

How can parents break the screen time habit and work on increasing face-to-face interaction?
In my experience the best way to break the screen time habit is to LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  When I make a concerted effort to put MY phone down, my kids follow suit.  It's so easy to get bogged down in replying to texts and following up on emails that too often those tasks begin to monopolize my time at home.  Then, in an effort to "keep busy," my kids will pick up their devices while I work away.  Breaking my own device habit was key to breaking my kids' device habit.

Why is it so hard to disconnect from technology?
The device holds all the answers...from a number for a local plumber, to what to make for dinner, to the kid's homework for the week.  Device, device, device!  All day, everyday.

What are the benefits of taking time together as a family?
Head down, phone in hand, thumbs typing away gets so mundane.  We all start to look like zombies.  The other day at a busy international airport, I looked up (from my own device, eek!) just to see the tops of everyone's heads.  No faces.  Two hours I sat in the same spot, surrounded by the same people, and never had to speak a word...or even acknowledge anyone's presence.  That was so sad to me.  Even more sad, is the same thing happens at home.  Just the top of the head, no faces.  Yikes!

The biggest (and most gratifying!) benefit of taking time away from the screen is watching your kids come alive!  Watching your spouse come alive!  Feeling yourself come alive!  Listen to each other talk.  Laugh together.  Throw a ball.  Draw with chalk on the sidewalk. 
It's amazing how exciting the simple things become to your kids....simply because we never take time to do them anymore.

What are some team-building activities families can do at home?
An impromptu jump in the pool.  Follow the leader around the house and yard (picking up laundry, toys, and school papers as you go, if you live in my house!).  Ask for help making dinner or doing that project in the garage.  Any change from the norm (of texting, emailing, surfing, updating your status) becomes fun.  And more important it becomes a team building activity because in a very simple way, you're building the bond between you and your family - which is the most important "team" you'll ever be a part of!

As parents, we watch our kids.  But our kids so very closely WATCH US.  So if you think they're on those devices too much, you probably are too!  

Empower Adventures aims to provide an inspirational experience which engenders a positive attitude and encourages teamwork through canopy tours, zip lines, ropes courses, and leadership development and adventure activities. The company utilizes best-in-class techniques to train guides, offering the highest standard of safety protocols within the outdoor adventure industry.

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