No! No Devices On This Trip!

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 212 · Duration: 00:16:51

No! No Devices On This Trip!

Here’s an interesting question. 

Is it reasonable to require your teenagers to take a family trip and not have devices with them?Click To Tweet We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, No! No Devices On This Trip!

Today we’re hearing from Letitia from Minneapolis, Minnesota and Letitia writes:

Dear Neil,

I’m planning a trip with my 13-year-old daughter to an exotic place. I have good friends there who will be delighted to have us and will definitely engage with my daughter.  Here is my dilemma.  My daughter lives on her tablet.  Of course I set limits, she’s allowed only an hour a day on weekdays.  But her schoolwork is accessed and done on her tablet, and she often connects with school friends on her tablet to do homework together, so we don’t count that.  And then her music is on her tablet, so we don’t count on using it to listen to music.  At the end of the day, it seems her tablet and her are one, that it is an integral part of her life.  

I don’t want her to have it on the trip because I think she’ll be on it instead of with us. I know there will be amazing sights and experiences and I’m concerned that her involvement with media and friends on her device will interfere with her full engagement of the trip.  I’m also concerned that if she has it, I’ll need to be setting limits and negotiating about its use constantly. If I say no tablet on the trip, I’m concerned she’ll brood and decide not to have a good time, in part to punish me and in part because she’ll feel naked without it. Any advice would be most appreciated.

Letitia of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Now to Letitia’s question:

It’s an important one for many reasons Letitia, what you notice about your daughter, that she is preoccupied with her device, is happening to all of us, and young people especially, are completely involved with their devices.  It is probably the number one issue that parents and kids fight about and there is a reason for it. Our devices are addictive and for all the wonderful capability that our devices have, and for their ability to connect us to each other, access media and information, take and store photos, and more, devices actually change our brains, our behavior, our consciousness.  This Christmas, my nephew Scott gave me a book by Nicholas Carr titled, The Shallows. It’s a fascinating and engaging book about how our brains grow and change depending on what we ask it to do, our spoken and written language and how we access information. He explains how our brains have changed over time, over thousands of years. Now with the introduction of the internet and the growth of devices to easily access it, these neurological changes have happened at an alarming rate so that technological changes that happened over hundreds of years, now happen in just a few years. The Shallows documents the neurological and behavioral impact of the ubiquitous use of our devices, and it is critical to understand it and know how it’s affecting us and our kids. And maybe, what we can do about it. It’s tough because there is no putting the genie back in the bottle; the internet with phones, watches, tablets, car dashboards, and more are here to stay.  Here are some facts to know about. 

  1. Access to the internet actually leads to reduced memory.  Studies demonstrate that having access to the internet reduces our retention of information; why?  Most likely because we believe we can find it again when we need it. It even reduces our memories of experiences.  Why?  Most likely because we are busy recording it or being distracted by our devices, but the evidence is clear; when we have devices with us, we remember less.
  2. Lower problem solving and reasoning skills. Why? We focus less and read books less.  We grab information in short spurts and don’t wrestle with ideas and don’t process it thoroughly. 
  3. Lower social engagement and intimacy.  Just being in possession of a phone during an in-person social event, reduces the quality of the engagement.  We are on “standby” for that next alert and even if alerts are off, we are so habituated to them that we anticipate them, hence we are distracted from engaging what’s in front of us. 
  4. And then of course, there is the release of dopamine from our brains when we get an alert, a message, an email, or even look at our phone.  Here’s a quote from The Shallows: “Imagine combining a mailbox, newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library, a personal diary, and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know and then compressing them all into a single small radiant object. That’s what our device represents to us.”  

Study after study demonstrates that even being in possession of a device lowers our social and intellectual performance.Click To Tweet

Of course without the internet and a device to access it, you wouldn’t be listening to this podcast, and god knows how our kids and we would have managed through the pandemic. There are plenty of positive gifts from the internet, but the downsides are quite real

So Letitia, you are absolutely right to be concerned that your 13-year-old will be less present and get less out of her experience if she spends it with her tablet, or even her tablet being present. So, what to do?  Without knowing your relationship with your daughter, and how you have effectively set limits in the past, I’ll say at the tender age of 13, it’s fine to set the limit and have this be a brief, device free trip. When she’s without her tablet, she can read, draw, converse, and embrace the novel exotic environment. I’m sure she will object and maybe forcefully object, as if you were telling her that she had to leave her right arm at home. Letitia, that’s addict behavior and there is no doubt that device addiction is a significant part of this, and it demonstrates the importance of getting off the drug. I would remind your daughter that to the extent that she broods and shows that she doesn’t know how to be a positive happy young person without a device, it informs you that she may need far greater restrictions from her device when she gets home

Letitia, I’ve heard from parents time and again that when they decided that they needed to take their child’s or young teen’s devices away, after an initial “melt down”, they “got their kid back”.  I regularly hear stories of kids who ignored or insulted their siblings, suddenly engaging with them positively, engaging positively with their parents, and doing activities they had let fall by the wayside.

Going device free is good for our mood, good for our relationship with our own thoughts and feelings, good for our familial relationships, and our relationships in general. Click To Tweet 

So Parents, therapists and folks who work with families.  The internet and the many devices to access it has us in new dangerous territory.  Not only are our kids facing the risks we just discussed, but we all are.  It’s a rare person or family that will decide to live life entirely without the companionship of a device, so what to do?  How about we all do what I’m encouraging Letitia to do, require device free time, not just hours, but days.  That may be the only way we remember to have a relationship with our own brains, our environment, and each other.   

Thanks for tuning in today listeners and special thanks to you Letitia for your question. We all hope you and your daughter have a fabulous device free adventure.  If you have experience with going device free, or treating internet or gaming addiction, shoot me an email and share it with me. I’d love to hear about it.

Before we end today, let’s do a little something to relax our minds and bodies. Have you been remembering to do some slow deep breathing throughout the day? I hope so; it makes a big difference.  Let’s take a slow deep breath right now.  (inhale…exhale…..) How’s that feel? Good. Let’s do the exercise we did last week again.  Let your arms and hands flop comfortably to your sides.  Now let your arms stay limp, roll your shoulders back, then-up then forward and back down, so you’re making a circle with your shoulders.  Try that slowly, say five times and then rest.  1,2,3,4,5.  Now do the same thing in reverse so that you’re rolling your shoulders front to back.  Try that slowly five times.  How does that feel?  Do you notice the tension release?  Try five more back to front and then front to back.  Once again, a small thing makes a noticeable difference.  And these small things are important because as I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again, this parenting business ain’t easy so self-care is essential; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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