Making a Digital Break

by Leticia Barr- October 29, 2012 • 1:26 pm

Hello, I’m Leticia Barr, Safely Spotlight guest columnist and a DC Metro area mom of 2 elementary-school-aged children. I’m also the founder of Tech Savvy Mama and a regular contributor to, where I provide technology tips to parents through Tech Savvy Parents.

In today’s world there are myriad digital devices that let us communicate and access information—constantly—but how do you create a balance between being connected online versus in real life?

Adults are finding it tricky to manage their own screen time, despite telling their children to put down the screens. The separation between work and home blurs as we pull out our phones to take a call at the dinner table, sneak a quick peek at a text while riding in the car, use a tablet to surf the web during a family movie night. We even pick up our phones from the bedside table before saying good morning.

We think we’re being covert by stealing quick glances, but our kids notice. They know we’re not providing them with our undivided attention at the times when they need us the most. Yet we admonish them for time in front of the computer. We plead with them to stop playing video games on consoles, handheld systems, and mobile devices. We’re constantly monitoring their cell usage for data and text overages as we ask them to pull out their headphones and unplug.

Somewhere there’s a disconnect between the behavior that we expect from our children and how they see us interacting with technology. But striking a healthy balance by unplugging can be hard. The prevalence of mobile technology puts the power to connect in our hands. Positive interactions gained from those quick glances feed our minds and souls, making it increasingly difficult to disconnect from our devices.

But what do we do and where do we start to regain a balance to forge precious connections with our loved ones? A panel called “Getting a Grip: Finding Balance in a HyperConnected World” at the 2011 Family Online Safety Institute’s Annual Conference addressed this exact challenge faced by so many.

Mark Prensky, author of Teaching Digital Natives Partnering for Real Learning, stated that the “distinction between online and offline is becoming irrelevant to young people online” while Sherry Turkle (Alone Together) believed there was still value in teaching “our kids that unplugging and spending time alone can be refreshing and restorative.” Turkle found that kids felt as if they were competing for their parents’ attention and while no generation has ever had complete attention from Mom and Dad, she expressed concern over the magnitude of the problem shared by today’s youth.

As a culture, we’re torn between managing expectations of constantly being on call through mobile devices and trying to multitask while parenting. Is there a way to realistically take a digital break to be more connected parents yet still satisfy work demands in a timely manner? Will leaving our technology make us better digital people, as William Powers suggests in Hamlet’s Blackberry?

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There isn’t a how-to guide or a prescriptive course that comfortably guides one down the path towards disconnectedness for families. Regaining balance requires acknowledgement of what has been missing and taking baby steps toward the end goal.

“Okay,” you say. “I want to acknowledge what’s been missing and take baby steps. But how do I start?” It’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Well, I have my own ideas, but I’d also like to find out from you: Do you long for unplugged time? Do you want that for your kids? If you want that and don’t have it, what keeps you from making changes? In my next post, I’ll discuss my own family’s and friends’ experiences, as well as share what I’ve learned from the Safely community.

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