The kids have been getting increasingly withdrawn into their phone screens (and now every parent, even of tweens are nodding their heads in agreement and understanding) and my husband and I decided we had to draw a line somewhere this summer. That line was last week. We packed up the RV and drove it 500 miles to a campsite out in the middle of nothing.
We’re mean parents. We picked it based on lack of coverage in our network.
Now, that might seem dangerous, except it isn’t—the park has several land lines at various points around the campsite, so we can still get in touch with reality. We also pack long range walkie-talkies if anyone decides to go exploring. At any rate, the boys were quite miffed when they realized there was no snapchatting or texting in their near future. Not a whole lot they could do about it, though.
The first night at the campsite they were a bit sullen. Likely because we had made their phones into fancy paperweights for the next week. The husband and I were unperturbed. Over dinner, the two of us kept talking about how great it was that nobody from work could reach us (technically that’s not true, my husband’s assistant absolutely had the number to the ranger station, but unless there was an emergency, the boys were never going to find out about that) and how free it felt to be away from all of the stuff that’s been weighing on us. It was partially a sell for the boys to see that we feel the same way they do about being reachable, but that sometimes it can be a burden, too. Of course, it was a believable sell because it is at least partially true. There is something to be said for unplugging every once in a while. They didn’t agree with us, but we noticed they didn’t disagree, either.
The second day, we had them up early to go fishing. There was actually some good natured family teasing and interaction going on. The boys seemed much more relaxed. Could it be that our devious little plan had started to work? By dinner, we certainly thought so. We sat around the picnic table included in our campsite and talked until long after most of the people around us turned in for the night. We plugged in our trusty ceramic heater, one of those camping essentials we’ve learned the hard way to always have onboard the RV, to keep us all warm when the night turned chilly so that we could continue talking. The boys, perhaps emboldened by the semi-darkness and the cozy warmth, started to open up. We heard stories about problems with their teammates; they asked questions about girls, college, and their futures. In other words, we found out just why they’ve been so lost in their phones—things have been tough for them and they have been both commiserating with their friends and escaping into the mind-numbing world of apps. We were able to answer questions, address concerns, and simply listen to the things that are important to them with no distractions on either side. I didn’t realize how much we all needed that.
By the last day, the boys were in good spirits and seemed remarkably well rested. It made packing up the RV and leaving the campsite a little sad. One glorious thing happened on the drive home, however. My phone pinged to let me know we were back on the grid, and I turned around to let the boys know. They looked at each other, smiled, and my youngest said, “So?” They kept playing cards together, their phones untouched.
Even if you can’t relocate your kids to the mountains for a week to separate them from their friends and phones long enough to get them to open up, you can try setting aside time every night—I recommend a half hour or so after dinner, you don’t want it to be so long that they are frustrated with you—to give them the opportunity to come to you and talk about whatever is on their mind. And if you’re expecting them to put down their phones, you need to do it to. Show them that you feel their time and feelings are valued by giving them your complete attention. It can make a huge difference to your teenager!