Have a Family Summer Tech Plan
By: Devorah Heitner, Raising Digital Natives
When summer draws near, parents get excited about outdoor activities for their kids. Perhaps it brings back memories of our own childhoods—playing outdoors with friends, going to camp, taking family vacations, and other great activities. There’s so much to do!
Because our memories of summers past tend to be idealized, we rarely include technology as a part of the picture. We may think back to watching TV on a rainy day—but our memories are more about riding our bikes, swimming, and playing kickball.
Our kids’ world today looks different from ours, though. For tweens, technology contributes a lot to their social world. how they connect—and feel connected. While we still want them to enjoy all the outdoor activities that the summer has to offer, idealizing an “unplugged” summer is not likely to go over well.
For parents, part of the appeal of unplugging is about offering some relief for their kids after a long year of doing school work on computers, gaming, and socializing with peers via texting and social media. It’s stressful, and finally there’s a chance for a break. Parents love the idea of their kids unplugging, even when they themselves don’t know how to do it—even if they want to.
However, kids may or may not be on board with this idea. Some kids may relish it, other kids will resist it. How you handle it is entirely up to you, but the biggest thing that I can suggest is to HAVE A PLAN.
Today’s kids are used to structured time, and once the school year’s over, that time can get filled up by passive, “empty” activities. Parents who don’t have a plan feel that the summer “slipped away” and that they could have done more to help their kids fill the gap in structured time. It doesn’t mean that you have to chart out every minute—but you’ll feel better if you have an overall working plan.
The most important part of your plan is to have a plan:
1. Go cold turkey. It’s hard to be successful with this approach without changing their environment. But it’s important to retain their social structure too. Day camps are great for this. Sleep-away camps might even be better, since unplugging is often required—taking parental enforcement out of the equation (the idea of unplugging at camp has gotten so popular that there are even grown-up unplugged camps such as Grounded).
One camper told me that all the way to camp, she dreads unplugging and leaving her phone with her parents. But then after the first day, she doesn’t miss it.
“All my camp friends are right there, we talk in the bunks and all the time—so I don’t really need to check my phone.”
She admitted that she usually spends a couple of hours “catching up” on the ride home.
2. Go all in. Maybe unplugging is going to be difficult to impossible. Consider embracing that—just do so intentionally and with a plan. There are a lot of great programs that offer safe, tech-based fun for your kids. Some are more social, such as Minecraft camp, where kids can play and interact in a structured environment. Other programs are more educational, such as Scratch Camp, where kids learn to code—or Robotics Camps, where they learn how to build robots.
Imagine that your kids actually want to keep learning! To extend the school year, in a way—but to write their own curriculum and do things that are of high-interest to them. This can not only be fun for them, but incredibly productive. After all, they’ll be gaining skills and new experiences that may serve them well in their studies—or even in their future careers!
3. Co-create the plan. You’ll get better buy-in if you include your kids in the decision-making process. Talk to them about the pros and cons of unplugging. Would you unplug with them? Maybe take the challenge together? You’d probably each learn a lot about your relationship with your devices.
Tweens are at a critical point in determining their identities and setting (and testing!) boundaries. Helping them feel “in control” of the decision can be a huge confidence boost. Imagine the difference in explaining to their friends: “My parents are making me unplug” vs. “I decided to try unplugging for the summer.” Empowerment is never a risk to social standing.
4. Mind yourself too! One of the unintended consequences of your plan is that it can be difficult for parents, too. I hear from parents often who say that it’s hard for them to go “cold turkey” in communicating with their kids who are away at camp—or even at their grandparents’ house. It can be a great relief, but it can be stressful too.
Many camps realize this, and some even post images on social media for update-starved parents!
There’s a lot to consider, but it’s good to have a plan—not one based on idealism, but on your family’s unique needs instead. You can help your kids create lasting memories either way, whether it’s outdoor fun or unleashing their creativity with technology. Or both. Just don’t be passive about it, or you could get to the end of the summer and realize you spent it all looking at other people's vacations or watching reruns!
About the Author: Devorah Heitner, PhD is the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools seeking advice on how to help children thrive in a world of digital connectedness. 17,000 people have viewed her recent TEDx on Empathy in the Digital Age. An experienced speaker, workshop leader, and parent coach, Dr. Heitner speaks at schools across the United States. She is writing a handbook for parents, titled, “Raising Your Digital Native.” Dr. Heitner has a Ph.D. in Media/Technology and Society from Northwestern University she is delighted to be raising her own digital native, too.