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Principals Perspective (June) - Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Unplugging for the Summer

The first year I went to sleepaway camp was before my third grade year and I really didn’t know what exactly to expect.  I knew that I was going to a Jewish overnight camp somewhere near Seattle, WA, that it would take about five hours to get there by bus, and that there would be lots and lots of different outdoor activities for me to enjoy all day long.  While I was a very active child in a variety of sports, I also was a big television and movie kid.  Going off to camp would mean a full week and half without access to technology of any kind.  Now, I don’t really remember what I thought about being “unplugged” for that long at the time, but what I do remember is that while I was away, I did not miss the electronic devices at all.  I had a blast spending almost all of my time outside and look back fondly on those summers at camp, years before there were cell phones, laptop computers, iPads, Kindles, gaming consoles, and the many other and varied electronic devices that now dominate our children’s experiences.

As we prepare two of our own children for their camp experiences this summer, I am thrilled that they are both attending camping programs that are what I call “device-free zones.”  Besides cameras for taking pictures, campers are not permitted to have or use electronic devices for any reason and, in all of the years that we have been sending our children to camp, none of them have come home frustrated that they did not have access to their devices.  Reflecting upon my and my children’s summer camp experiences, I realized that the onset of summer vacation is a wonderful time to set or reset expectations around technology, device, and screen usage that are in the best interests of your child and your family.  With more and more children having access to more and more devices at younger ages, this is an important discussion to have as parents and then as families so that everyone is on the same page and understands why the rules and expectations are what they are.  With the reduced need for technology usage to support learning with school out for the summer, this is an opportunity that should not be missed.

“Device addiction” is a phenomenon that is now being researched around the world in order to determine the consequences of human beings being more and more reliant upon and connected to devices and the initial findings are staggering.  One study revealed that users now check their cell phones an average of 150 times per day (or approximately every six minutes), young adults send an average of 110 text messages per day, and 46% of users say that their smartphone is something that they “could not live without.”  Furthermore, symptoms similar to those of individuals being treated for substance abuse, such as withdrawal, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and various physical reactions are being seen among individuals who were asked to refrain from device usage for 24 hours as part of the study.  While we are only at the beginning of studying and understanding device addiction, what we have learned so far strongly suggests that the establishment of expectations, norms, and routines around devices will go a long way to supporting mental health in our 21st century world.  It will also provide opportunities for skill building that were naturally part of social-emotional and physical development just one generation ago, but are now being lost, such as interpersonal communication, development of self-confidence and resilience associated with safe risk-taking activities, and imagination and creativity, just to name a few.  

I am not suggesting, of course, that we become entirely “device free” for the summer.  The benefits and convenience that technology provide serve important purposes.  However, these next couple of months certainly provide an opportunity for families, as I mentioned, to set or reset and implement device practices that will promote healthy choices and moderation with technology that can then flow into next school year.  Here are some suggestions for your family to consider in order to make this process happen:

  •  Have a clear and open conversation about what you are doing any why you are doing it.  Consider logging screen time vs. active time for several days so you have data to support your decision

  • Set clear screen time limits and enforce the rules

  • As parents, set a good example by limiting your own recreational screen time to the norm you’ve established for the family

  • Make meal time = family time, no screens of any kind allowed

  • Create a “home base” for all devices to be dropped off for the evening and make bedrooms “device free zones” after a certain hour in preparation for bedtime

  • Don’t use screen time as a form of positive or negative reinforcement - this makes it seem more important to children than it really is  

For even more information and recommendations, feel free to read this article published by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of NIH.

Happy summer/kayitz na-im!