The advice to unplug from electronic media may seem hypocritical coming from a blogger. After all, I spend a lot of time in front of various screens, writing and sharing things on social media. But as Richard Louv points out in his book The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, “The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”
I thought of this quote a lot over Christmas, which I spent more or less unplugged with my family on a small island in Florida.
One morning I decided to go for a slow jog on the beach. I brought no cell phone to snap pictures with. There was no app to log my miles or chart my pace. No competition. Just me, putting one foot in front of the other. I have no idea how far I ran or how fast, and it didn’t even matter. As I was listening to the sound of waves crashing onto the beach, I was once again reminded why I keep seeking out nature and why I want my kids to be as deeply connected to it as I am.
As I sank my feet into sand so soft it could pass for powdered sugar, something rare happened: my racing mind was stilled and I was fully aware in the present moment. Because when we unplug and immerse ourselves in nature we become at once more relaxed and more focused, a phenomenon that psychology professors Stephen and Rachel Kaplan call Attention Restoration Theory. Not only that, but when we swim in the ocean, walk in the woods or ski down a mountain we form a connection with something much bigger and more powerful than ourselves.
That sunny morning on the beach I felt grateful to be alive.
I decided there and then that my New Year resolution (normally a bucket list of outdoor adventures – large and small – that I’d like to accomplish with the kids in the coming year) was going to be a little different this year. For 2016 I only have one goal: to become more mindful of my electronic media use. I challenge you to join me. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Go for a walk without bringing your cell phone
A smart phone can be used for many things in the outdoors, but it can also become a barrier to experiencing nature if you’re constantly snapping pictures, responding to friend request or checking your email while going for a nature walk. Try leaving your phone at home or in the car and see what happens.
Do something as a family without telling the world on social media
In the age of Facebook and Instagram, sharing our every move with friends and – let’s be honest – more than a few distant acquaintances has become the norm. But having the ability to instantaneously broadcast our experiences also means that we no longer need stay in the present moment. Refrain from hitting ‘post’ every once in a while – this family did, and it made their experience feel more special.
Make yourself unavailable sometimes
Remember the not so distant past when we didn’t have 29 ways of contacting somebody and a couple of days was considered a reasonable response time? We spend enough time making ourselves available for online requests, notifications and messages during the work week – block off a few hours in the evening when you simply put your phone away and focus on the here and now, or decide to unplug as a family one day a week. If you’re having trouble staying disciplined about it, one of these five apps may help.
Vacation without wi-fi
At this point, places without wi-fi almost qualify for the endangered species list, but if you manage to find one, jump on the opportunity. Spending quality time with family without the distractions of electronic media can be refreshing, even therapeutic. Plus, it will give your kids the chance to get creative if boredom sets in. Not convinced? Read about one family’s experience here.
Go on a road trip without any electronic devices in the car
Scary stuff, I know. But the long-term rewards of having children that can ride in the car for a few hours without throwing a fit because their iPad died is worth it. We still bring tablets along sometimes, but I try hard to make sure that the kids don’t become dependent on them for entertainment by changing things up with books, games of tic-tac-toe and old fashioned conversation. Click here for more screen free road trip ideas.
Having said all this, you will undoubtedly keep seeing my posts on the blog and in social media in 2016. Electronic devices and social media are a fact of life, and will most likely be an even bigger part of our children’s lives. Many of us depend on them for work and enjoy them for entertainment during our free time. But we can choose to be its masters or its slaves.
I know what I choose.
With that, I wish you a Happy New Year full of unplugged, outdoor fun as a family!
Disclaimer: This post may include affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.