This post was most recently updated on October 6th, 2020
Best way to unplug? Tell me if you have this problem. You finally finish cleaning up after dinner, you sit down to rest a few minutes, and then you realize everyone in your home is plugged in to an electronic device of some kind. You’re playing Words with Friends, your son is listening to iTunes, your husband is checking emails, and your daughter is searching online for images for a school project. All harmless activities, and maybe even important. But how do you digitally detox your family and reconnect when these devices are such a large part of our every day life?
I believe I know the best way to unplug —
Pick up your family and literally move them somewhere else. Together.
Some of the devices may follow you. But I assure you that this is your best opportunity to limit their use, make them impossible to use, or make them less desirable.
If you plan your activities and transportation well enough, you will provide an atmosphere that encourages interacting with and enjoying each other’s company. Ultimately, this will create a closer family, and that is your goal!
Meet the needs of your children
One year, our family experienced a unique situation. Two of our four children were serving service missions out of the country. When Christmas came around, our two younger children were really missing their older siblings. We couldn’t unite our family, but we could do something to “distract” them. We planned a surprise after-Christmas trip to New York City. They didn’t know about our plans until they started opening their Christmas gifts and found Broadway show tickets and admission to the Empire State Building (and mittens and scarves) among their presents.
At first, they weren’t sure that’s how they wanted to spend their holiday. But I’ll tell you this trip went a long way towards helping my youngest create a strong bond as sister and brother! And my husband and I had a great time as well. This is a time when unplugging and seeking to meet the needs of our children really paid off!
Camping or backpacking will help you unplug
This may be one of the best family activities, because you seldom have internet or TV in a campground. You’re in a new environment, which encourages exploring. And you may have basic responsibilities that take a lot longer than at home (preparing meals over a campfire or setting up a tent). Because it’s a new environment, it’s a clean slate for your family. Take advantage of this to schedule your days full of “team-building” events.
You really want your children to learn that their best friends are their siblings, and that Mom and Dad will always be right there for them. This is never more evident than when you pull them away from their “world” for a time. So, plan hikes and rock-skipping contests, card games or photo shoots, scavenger hunts, wildlife talks by camp rangers, foil dinners and “snipe” hunts, bedtime stories and star-gazing. Remember that working hard together is exhilarating!
(click on any photo to enlarge)
(photos of Yosemite by the Quackenbush family)
Again, you remove your family from home and take them out of their “comfort zones”. If you just hand them an iPad or turn on the DVD player, you’re losing an opportunity for a much better family experience. Let your children help you plan what you’ll do when you arrive at your destination. Involve them in researching and budgeting for your trip (if they’re old enough). And be sure to add some fun family activities to enjoy together in the car.
For my family, that meant playing the Alphabet game (seeking letters on signs and license plates), singing, sharing interesting trivia about towns we were passing through, and eating favorite homemade snacks. (I highly suggest you do not prohibit food in your car on a road trip!)
This is one time that old-fashioned paper folding maps come in handy. Let your children trace progress on the map and calculate distances or search for interesting geological features, etc. There’s nothing like a paper map to help you see the bigger picture.
Encourage your family members to help each other and to be considerate of each other while traveling. We also rotated our children’s seating arrangements, so that no one always got the “favorite” seat. I’ve noticed our children got along a lot better on a trip! Perhaps they’re generally in a better mood because they don’t have to do chores. But the good feelings about each other go a long way after the trip is over. (If you’d like more ideas for keeping your children happy on a road trip, see my post on this topic)
Unplug with special interest trips
Nearly everyone in our family likes to ski or snowboard. While our kids were in college, we planned ski weekends that were only a few hours away from them, so we could all congregate and enjoy each other’s company. (Yes, we were extremely lucky that all of our kids attended the same college!) My husband and I had to travel further, but that was okay. It was worth it to see our kids (and grandchildren, too).
Being up in the mountains really limited our access to internet, so we were
forced happy to spend more time playing games, cooking and eating meals together, and of course, hitting the slopes!
On another trip, we stayed on a houseboat on Lake Powell for a week. No internet or phone reception there! But amazing views, water sports, hiking, and of course, more time with our family!
Unplug on day trips, too
Day trips are great fun for a family. Anytime you leave your home and do something together, it can be good bonding time. Do be sure to plan little getaways when you can’t swing the big ones. But there really is something to be said for “getting away” for more than just a day or two. It cements those growing experiences your family is sharing together.
A few ideas for good day trips are excursions to the local zoo, having a barbecue and playing at the park, or going boogie-boarding at the beach. (But there are so many more!) When you see and do the same things together…and then talk about those experiences, you are creating shared memories that will help you feel closer.
Bonus: Take photos and view them often as a family. We have a constant slideshow of all our family photos playing on our desktop at home. And sometimes, we just sit and watch the slideshow and remember what we’ve done! It reinforces all the good unplugging experiences we’ve shared.
Unplug with international travel
This isn’t something we did until our children were teenagers. The cost required longer periods of time to save money, and we wanted to be sure our kids would be old enough to appreciate and learn from our travel experiences. In 2010, our entire family went to Spain and France for two weeks. Together, we planned this trip for nearly a year. Everyone was involved in making to-do lists, planning the itinerary, and preparing and packing for the trip. We even studied Spanish and French together (some of our family were already fluent). We planned a buddy system in case we got separated. And then we had the trip of a lifetime!
There were no cell phones on this trip. And only a few visits to an internet cafe to communicate with friends back home. We all took turns writing in a travel journal, sharing what we learned and how we felt. And we took lots of photos along the way. Not only did we laugh and play and learn and grow together, but we came together to get through the challenges (cancelled flights, getting lost, a Paris subway scare).
We were all exposed to new languages, cultures, traditions, laws, and religions, and we benefitted from that individually and as a whole. And when we got home, I made photo books that included our best photos and excerpts from our travel journal, so each member of the family would be able to remember our trip.
Unplug at family reunions
Family reunions don’t happen too often. They provide plenty of incentive to pick up your family and travel to be with cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. Take advantage of the opportunity to share family stories and build stronger ties to your family heritage. Let your kids fill out family trees and challenge them to get to know as many people as possible at the reunion. At our Wilcox family reunions, there are traditional activities the kids always look forward to: soda bottle rockets, horseshoes, volleyball, and searching for gold coins in a pile of sawdust. At Zehrung reunions, we share old stories and eat great food!
Special family events
Whether it’s weddings, baptisms, the births of babies, graduations, or even funerals, special family events are crucial for taking your family off the grid and strengthening them. Similar to family reunions, these provide lots of opportunities to meet with family you don’t see often, to reconnect and get updated on each other’s lives and to help celebrate (or mourn) the important family events that bind you together. Make these events a priority for your travel budget. Don’t miss out!
Looking back over the years, we can attribute at least some of the closeness our family now enjoys to the priority we placed on traveling. Getting them (and us!) away from electronics and the routine of home life allowed us to reconnect and create wonderful memories together. If you don’t unplug your family once in awhile, the smart phones, headphones, and computers may isolate you!
Please! Share in the comments below just how you and your family unplug…