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Insisting on Unplugging


In all the time I’ve spent with kids, I’ve been amazed at how much they do at once. How many windows are simultaneously open, how many little devices are buzzing, all while writing papers or learning chemistry. Granted we are all socially overloaded, but this is the first generation to be brought up fully immersed with technology and social media.

Though I’m all for efficiency and its cousin multi-tasking, all of these forces competing for our kids’ attention limit their ability to actually assimilate information. The outcomes are consistent: kids who are clicking around while doing work create choppy, incoherent writing, have limited comprehension, and are often unable to synthesize information. Their ideas are half-formed.

The greatest gift my parents gave me that yes, I hated them for and did not really understand, was structured unplugged time. Granted, all that meant at the time was no phone, no television, and no CD player. But they were strict about it: it happened nightly under their supervision until it was automatic.

It was the single greatest habit they forced upon me that paved the way for a lifetime of focus and follow through.

Unplugging provides relief from the endless invitations to engage. Kids can just do what is most imminent, without distraction. Minus buzzes and clicks, they have an opportunity to think clearly. Furthermore, they have a fighting chance to figure out whether or not they actually understand the material because there is enough mental space available.

I know, this sounds archaic-technology is a part of life now. How can we possibly monitor all that is distracting? Isn’t this the world they inhabit? Why don’t you just ask them to write with a quill and inkwell?

Though I would LOVE to see a middle-schooler with a feather by candlelight, this is far simpler than that. Start when they are young and make it a household rule. Since every home runs differently, you can choose when to implement this-after dinner, right after school-and for an hour, everyone unplugs. It’s a distraction-free zone in which quiet is the norm. Kids can do their homework or read and the same goes for parents. Any work that needs to be typed is permitted, but it should be done in a common space to prevent “researching.” If there is no homework, no problem. Be prepared with books (link to book list) and magazines that are of interest and age appropriate.

Unplugging might sound like Little House On the Prairie, but it is a powerful tool for parents to give their children. Try it for a month or two and see if there is a difference in both your child’s grades and attitude about school. And please share your findings with us.

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