If you are reading this, it’s obvious you are plugged in and living online. Internet, email, social media – it’s become and integral part of our lives and unlike those of us born (more than) twenty years ago, today’s children have exposure to technology and various forms of social media starting at a very early age.
This weeks picks focus on two ends of the spectrum, if you will. The first is written by a mom who, concerned by her family’s engagement in technology, makes the bold move to totally unplug. As in, from everything.
The second book is one that, for those of us not willing to make that step to unplugging and have children who are making their first steps (or are already involved) in social media, introduces 10 simple rules of conduct for our kids to stay kind online. You think middle school was tough when you were a kid? Add in all the various forms of social media our tweens and teens engage in, and it just became a hundred times more difficult.
In A Year Unplugged: A Family’s Life Without Technology, Sharael Kolberg sees how disconnected her family is as they go through their daily lives. Her husband unwinds at the end of the night by watching tv, her young daughter seems to be highly – and uncomfortably – influenced by advertisements seen on television and merchandising related to those same programs she watches on TV.
She makes what some of us might consider to be an unthinkable decision – they disconnect themselves from all technology – digital cameras and camcorders, laptops, mobile phones, internet, and television. Her husband IS allowed to use technology for work – but he can’t work at home because there, he has to stay completely unplugged.
Through the experience, she discovers just how dependent we are upon technology. While not all of it is bad – technology does provide us some means of obtaining information more easily and staying in closer contact – she also discovers that by unplugging, her family is able to engage with each other in more meaningful ways and new opportunities open to her with her new-found free time.
Kolberg is an online journalist, so this experiment required her to take a leave of absence from work. While she fully embraces the changes she needs to make in her life, her husband’s life becomes more stressful as he struggles to find a balance with being unplugged outside of the office.
It’s an interesting experiment. She definitely has biases against certain television programs and how they affect her young daughter, but I found myself reflecting back to my own childhood, and even with the limited TV exposure we had back then (practically the olden days, at least where my kids are concerned) I can honestly say that some form of marketing influence has always been present (and I found that the commercials on her daughters favorite channel are still more limited than on another children’s network that I tried my hardest to limit my own kids’ watching.) Overall, however, it does reflect how our online involvement can get in the way of our relationships and how we all could benefit from some degree of unplugging – even if it is for the short-term.
My only disappointment with the book is that it ended on the last day of their experiment. I would have loved to see an epilogue following up on their re-entry to technology and what new rules she applied to her family’s technology use; I wanted to see how the experiences influenced their lifestyle moving forward.
Unplugging completely is a pretty drastic measure and I’m sure not an option that suits many of us. However, if you have spent any time on social media, you know that people tend to speak more freely – and more unfiltered – when online, and that trolls and meanness can be found everywhere. There is a lot of talk about how to stop online bullying. Author Galit Breen approaches it from a more proactive position: her book Kindness Wins serves as a resource for teaching our kids how to be kind online. It might also help you to find the source of the bullying if you ever find yourself coming across it with your own children.
One chapter that struck me as an incredible life lesson in general was the third “Learn How to Call Out Each Other”, in which she talks about teaching our kids how to call out bad behavior, to stand up to it and to find a way to turn around negative games or comments to the positive. Admittedly, this is hard enough for an adult to do – but imagine the effect that learning how to do this as a child could have on them and the people around them as they grow up! Imagine how much easier school could be if haters got called out for their meanness. It was an eye-opening thought.
This is just one of the many rules and resources her book provides. Other chapters cover topics like body shaming, the permanency of what is posted online, the dangers of the perceived anonymity online, and the currency of the online “like”. She also includes two contracts, one, the more expected “parent to kid” contract, but also a “parent to parent contract” – a mission statement of sorts to hold our OWN selves accountable.
I’ve talked about the book in an earlier post written in association with the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion movement, but I haven’t had a chance to give it the review it deserves. As my own soon-to-be middle schooler is entering the age of increased online involvement, I’ve realized that the basic ground rules that we have set – from the mom-observable ones, like I get the password to his devices and that he needs my approval before downloading any apps, to the more presumptive ones, in that he follows the “do onto others rules” and that he acknowledges that once something is out there, it never really goes away – well, these are a jumping off point. Galit’s book is one that will help my guy (and my 9-year-old, in all honesty) maneuver the difficult tween and teen years with tools in hand and hopefully, more confidence.
Honestly, it’s a book from which we ALL could benefit.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which, if used, help a teeny bit offset my web hosting expenses but won�t cost you anything. An advanced reader copy of A Year Unplugged was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I purchased a copy of Kindness Wins with my own money. In both cases, all opinions found here are mine alone.