No Cellphone? Unplugging on Family Vacations

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Tune into family, turn off the iPod. Credit: Corbis


When Aaron Bryant told his son he could not bring his iPod camping, the 13-year-old was surprised.

The youngster was expecting to listen to music during the car ride.

His dad had other ideas. "I turned the radio off, and we talked," says Bryant, who lives in Austin, Texas.

Bryant, who left his cell phone and laptop at home, planned the outing as a time to connect with his son without the interruptions of technology.

"I was getting bogged down with a lot of work," says Bryant, who owns a records management consulting company. "I went with the intention of getting away."

Bryant didn't pitch the trip that way to his son, though. Instead, he told him about all the fun things they would do while they were camping.

"It's all about how you sell it," says Bryant, who has custody of his son on weekends. "It turned out good. He learned more about me as a father. How much I love him. How much I care about his future."

Parents do need to have a plan when they approach kids about unplugging for a family vacation, said Sharon Miller Cindrich, of www.pluggedinparent.com and author of E-Parenting: Keeping Up With Your Tech-Savvy Kids.

She recommends allowing kids to take their electronic devices on family trips, but limiting their use. Parents should "expect resentment" to the suggestion, but need "to remain strong," she says.

When she travels with her 13- and 15-year-olds, Cindrich of Virginia Beach, Va., will tell them to leave their phones in the room for some excursions or make them wait until evening to use their phones or video games.

Toronto mother Kathy Buckworth finds her kids are usually open to some level of "unplugging" while vacationing. Allowing the kids to use their electronics during the travel time makes car rides and airport layovers more pleasant for everyone, she says. "With four kids of very different ages, it is hard to find a car game, conversation, or even video that they will all enjoy at the same time," the mother of four says. "I am more than happy to have them use their electronics if we are on a long car ride, or plane trip."

Once the family arrives at its destination, she puts limits on television-watching and video games, she says. That way, no one misses out on a family experience, says Buckworth, author of The BlackBerry Diaries: Adventures in Modern Motherhood. "It is nice to have the whole family 'present' when participating in something fun," she says.

The idea of creating "unplugged" family time is starting to take root around the world, said Tanya Schevitz, communications coordinator for the Sabbath Manifesto, a movement that encourages people to regularly turn off their electronic devices and connect with family, friends and nature. "Everyone feels this overwhelming pressure to be plugged in all the time," the San Francisco resident says. "It's not conducive to family life."

Spending time with your family without your cell phone, email or other technology is a rewarding experience, she says. "I love the idea of being completely off the grid with my family," she said. "It's just a really great thing for any family to do."

Catherine Connors, who hasn't totally unplugged since a camping trip more than two years ago, tries to spend some time away every day from her phone and computer. The Toronto mother usually tries to have quality time with her children, aged 2 and 4, while she's disconnected.

"They deserve that -- to not have a mom whose always saying 'just a sec!' while she checks her e-mail," says Connors who blogs at www.herbadmother.com. "It's hard, though; I can only do it in chunks of a few hours here and there, because working from home means that I'm kind of always on call."

Related: Not Your Ordinary Summer: Taking A Family Adventure Vacation

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.