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Momsensical: I banned all electronic devices from my family's latest road trip

By Susie Boyce

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 5:50 p.m. MST

Susie Boyce's family poses in San Antonio, Texas. On a recent road trip, family members were banned from all electronic devices in an effort to bring them closer together.

Susie Boyce

Over Christmas break, I tried something new. Maybe even a little crazy.

Some experiences I’ve had in the past months got me thinking, ultimately driving me to experiment and make some new resolutions.

This is how the process went:

First, my experiences:

At the beginning of a soccer game, I watched the parents of my daughter’s teammate settle into their camping chairs and pull out their phones. They never looked at the field again until the game was over. No cheering, no yelling at the refs — nothing. I wondered if they were aware that their daughter’s team had won.

Another time, my husband and I sat next to a father and his two tween-aged sons at a restaurant. The boys were engrossed in gaming devices the entire time we were there. The dad greeted a few acquaintances at the restaurant, but I never saw him speaking with his sons. I’m not sure when or if they ever put down their devices long enough to eat.

A teacher at my kids’ elementary school told me that an increasing number of parents are asking that their young children be evaluated, citing socialization concerns. “The root of most of their issues,” this teacher explained, “is that these kids don’t know how to interact. We send them on the playground to play, but many simply don’t know how. Too many parents put them in front of screens at home and in cars, and even when they do have play dates, they often sit next to their friends in front of screens.”

Second, my thinking:

I considered what my kids do with their time. Although I’m pretty strict on screen-time limits, they have considerably more — both time and devices — than I ever did as a kid. Home is where we learn and practice skills like conflict resolution, negotiation and communication. These aptitudes won’t magically appear once my kids enter the workforce, a marriage or parenthood.

And the more often my kids are in tech zombie mode, the fewer chances they have to make those human connections.

I also had to take a hard look at myself and consider what I do with my own time. What type of memories do I want my kids to have of their childhood? Of their mom?

To which do I give the most and the very best of my time — my kids or my devices? Regrettably, this wasn’t easy to answer.

Third, my experiment:

For various reasons (sanity, for one), I usually ease up on screen-time limits for road trips. But this time, I took the opposite approach and declared our holiday road trip “tech zombie free,” banning all electronic devices. This included cell phones, although I did allow one for navigational purposes only (out of respect for the fact that GPS devices have saved my marriage on more than one occasion).

The ban met with heavy resistance. My tales of surviving dozens of technology-free road trips as a kid — and still turning out to be pretty darn awesome — were met with excessive eye rolls. Even my husband’s eyes opened wide in alarm, but in the interest of solidarity (and preferring our bed to the couch), he bravely supported me.

Our trip didn’t extend beyond state boundaries, as I wasn’t sure my resolve would have either. But it was a road trip nonetheless, and we drove the six hours (each way) without gaming devices, movies, phones or even iPods.

We did, however, have pillows, games, books, food and — most significantly — each other. When a comment was made, everyone heard it. When a disagreement started, we each took a side. When someone whined, it affected all of us — which meant we dealt with it together.

Was it a perfect trip? No. Was there more conflict than there would have been without the ban? Probably (“Don’t bite your brother’s shirt!” was a new one for me). But our interactions were also more meaningful and frequent — including and especially the positive ones.

On the way home, we played license plate alphabet bingo; this cannot be done while wearing earphones.

Despite their grim predictions to the contrary, every single one of my kids survived. And even came home smiling.

Finally, my resolutions:

Help my kids grow and develop by carefully determining screen-time rules and limits while offering them plenty of other great activities and opportunities.

Give my kids the very most and the very best of my time.

In the end, realize it’s my kids — not my devices — who will be around for a limited time only.

Susie Boyce is a mom, writer and public speaker. Her column, "Momsensical," appears in North Dallas area publications and posts bimonthly on KSL.com. Visit her website at www.seriousmomsense.com.

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