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Can Your Kids Unplug?

An intrepid journalism teacher at American University made the following assignment to her students: Turn off all media for 24 hours and write about it. Her students were stunned. No phone -- cell or otherwise? No computer? No iPod? No radio?

To our kids, life without machine is a lot like life without food. It's been so ingrained in their lives for so long that they don't know what to do without it. In their follow-up reports on going without for a day, kids reported initial shock. But many discovered some disappearing life traits. For instance, silence. "We can't deal with silence anymore. We always have to have at least two things going on," one said. Many got more sleep, went out more, and talked face-to-face with other people more. Two even spent extra time with their mothers!

Long ago in our pre-children world, wonderful husband and I implemented a vacation policy similar to this 24-hour assignment. To put our journalism world away, we put a ban on newspapers. Reading news meant work. Vacation was a time to break away from that and take time for each other. Once computers became more prevalent, we've followed a similar thought process. A real vacation means no computer. And since husband finally joined the BlackBerry world, it will mean no BlackBerry. And that vacation starts now (well, yesterday, in fact -- I pre-wrote this blog!).

During the rest of this week, my colleague Jen Chaney will fill in for me on this blog. Jen is a veteran of the motherhood game, having raised her son Luke for all of ... six months. Okay, so she is still adjusting to mommy life, but Jen feels pretty comfortable with the whole journalism thing. At, she functions as movies editor, a DVD columnist and co-"Lost" blogger with Liz Kelly. She also is a regular commentator on Washington Post Radio and has written frequently for the print edition of The Washington Post, as well as USA Today, The Utne Reader and People magazine. Her bi-weekly humor column, "Jeneralizations" appears in the Gazette Newspapers. Please, refrain from throwing pacifiers and breast pumps at her.

Do you ever implement unplug time in your household? Would you consider it? Would your kids listen?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  August 6, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens , Tweens
Previous: The Debate: Talking Pedophilia | Next: When the Onesies Won't Stop Coming


While I'm not sure there's any value in unplugging- I've never seen it help anyone- I've curled up with enough good books to know it's very very easy.

Posted by: DCer | August 6, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

We had an interesting experience like this two weeks ago thanks to needing to move house. It took a week to get the internet back on and hence we had home without internet, a fairly novel thing in our wired family.

While we still had cell phones and the electronically wired workplace, home could only be called simply "still." That stillness was pretty remarkable, but most of us quickly got back into our old habits when the net reconnected. Yet, durring that time we read, played board games (and Dungeons and Dragons, yes we're a geeky houshold), and otherwise did fine.

Such unplugging was common on vacation when I was younger and could do such things. Now that I'm no longera child, however, I don't have that luxury... much as I might like to.

Posted by: David S | August 6, 2007 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I grew up back in the 'olden days' before ipods, home computers, Xboxes, TVs in every room. The newest technology we had consisted of a battery operated transister radio. During summer months we spent our time OUTSIDE during the day and since the sun doesn't go down until 8:30-9:00 we were dog tired by the time we got into bed. We spent our time doing any and all of the following:
riding our bikes with playing cards clipped to the spokes to make a funny noise;
building a 'tree' house on the ground and using it for a secret club house;
taking hikes in the woods, sometimes all the way to the river and railroad tracks (not quite the edge of the earth, but pretty far from the house);
having tea parties in the secret club house;
learning to embroider (girls);
learning to drive Dad's tractor (boys);
working in Dad's vegetable garden, picking tomatoes, beans, corn, lettuce, squash, strawberries;
riding our bikes out to the lumber yard and getting cold Cokes out of the Coke machine (a big deal for us in those days);
going to the library to borrow books of interest;
running through the lawn sprinkler in our bathing suits or whatever clothes we had on at the time;
picking peaches from the neighbor's trees and itching like crazy;
laying on our backs and deciding what the clouds looked like;
visiting a neighbor who was a war veteran and listening to war stories as he showed us his flying helmet, ribbons and badges.
True it would be hard to do without a radio for a day -- my mother always had her programs on while fixing dinner. In those days soap operas were on the radio, as well as a program that read classics on the air late at night.

With a little imagination, it shouldn't be hard to fill a couple days without ipods, TVs and computers.

Posted by: Steamed | August 6, 2007 10:25 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I are constantly plugged in-- we both spend all day at computers (he works in IT and I spend most of the day writing reports and reading the news online). When we get home we often sit next to each other on the couch with our laptops, watching our favorite TV shows. For our honeymoon, though, we left all our gadgets behind (except cell phones for emergencies). We didn't watch TV, didn't talk on the phone, and never once checked our email. Instead we talked to each other (can you imagine?), took walks, went out to dinner, watched live music, and laid on the beach. We never once missed the gadgets.

Now I find myself constantly craving time to read books.

I was just telling him yesterday that I'd like to spend less time channel and internet surfing and more time reading. Sure I'll still watch my favorite shows, and there are some things I do online that I can't do from work (like watch YouTube videos and check my MySpace messages), but I plan to replace my idle surfing with reading.

I don't think anyone ever looks back on their life and thinks "thank goodness I spent so much time on the internet."

Posted by: Regan | August 6, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I am in my 20s and don't have kids, but I am the same way. My regular, daily life is VERY internet/gadget centric, from my desk job to my 1-hour commute with my iPod, to watching TV while I work out in the evenings. Weekends are much less "plugged in," as I check email only once per day and generally watch less TV unless I have a night in.

In a few years, I will probably be thinking about having kids, and I can't imagine what it will be like to raise them in a tech world. I hear about parents who feel guilty turning on a DVD player on long car trips, but love the peace and quiet that ensues.

But aren't the kids losing important skills that my siblings and I learned on car trips like those, like how to entertain yourself, using your imagination, knowing when it's "quiet time," and just seeing the world outside the car window?

Posted by: CDell | August 6, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Well, we don't have a TV. And my kids don't do anything on the computer. Occasionally (like, once or twice a month) they may ask to listen to one of their children's CDs, but this is generally a sign that they're feeling ill. So I'm pretty plugged in, online several times a day. But my family just took a two week vacation where we totally unplugged. No phone, no TV, no computer, no recorded music. It was lovely! Of course, much more of an adjustment for me and my husband, since we're so used to getting online every day, than for my children. I must admit, at risk of sounding like a stuck-up, hippy, ludite, that I don't really get how or why people are so plugged in these days. The world is really a lovely place without electronic gadgets organizing your days.

Posted by: Karen | August 6, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I don't want to sound holier than thou, because I'm not. Maybe luckier, though, because I've just never had any problem getting my kids unplugged (girls, 10 and 7). In fact, they've never actually been very plugged in to begin with. Neither has a computer, iPod, TV, or radio in their bedroom. We do have a nice TV in the rec room, but without cable, their choices are really limited, so their TV time consists of a two-hour DVD about 2-3 times per month. We've taken 16-hour car rides without any video stimulation. As a family, we do occasionally listen to a book on CD on long trips. I can't really say why we've been so lucky, but I thank my good fortune.

Posted by: don | August 6, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

When 'da boyz' start arguing over whose turn it it to use their computer, like Saturday, *all* screens get turned off. And then we order them outdoors. Older son took a walk around the block. Younger son sat on the front porch and practiced his guitar, so Dad wouldn't bug him to later.

Posted by: Sue | August 6, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

We've taken 16-hour car rides without any video stimulation. As a family, we do occasionally listen to a book on CD on long trips

What he forgot to mention were 2,224 times they asked "are we there yet?". I thank God every trip for the dvd player.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 6, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse


"What he forgot to mention were 2,224 times they asked "are we there yet?". I thank God every trip for the dvd player."

I thank the Divine One every road trip for Valium.

Posted by: anonforthis | August 6, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

But aren't the kids losing important skills that my siblings and I learned on car trips like those, like how to entertain yourself, using your imagination, knowing when it's "quiet time," and just seeing the world outside the car window?

I think this is a valuable question, but here's the converse:

WHY is it valuable to be able to entertain yourself? It was valuable to us to be able to entertain ourselves and make up stories in our head and the like. But our world is gone.

My son has never known a world without Netflix, Comcast On-Demand, Tivo or less than 100 tv channels. He's never known a world where you had to wait for something to come on TV. He has to wait for Christmas, earn toys through chores, and other things, but he never has to wait for Tuesday to come around to watch Happy Days like I did.

My mother is older and learned all about canning fruits and vegetables in high school. After all, during World War II when food became scarce it was an incredibly important skill to be able to harvest fresh fruit and then can it for the winter to keep vitamins and calories available in the cold winter months when food was going to our ships at sea. My father, of course, learned all about caring for horses because it was a required skill on a farm and after all, no teenagers could afford their own cars.

In both of those cases my parents berated me in the 60s and 70s for not knowing how to can fruit to save money or how to take care of a horse. Does that seem silly today?

So the question I wonder is:

When we think that our kids should be capable of unplugging, why do we think so? Is text messaging just about the lamest form of human communication? Sure, it's written poorly and communicates nothing compared to either a phone call or email. But other than that, WHY is it important for kids to know how to unplug? Will they have a time in their life where they need to unplug? No, no they won't. That cow was let out of the barn when everyone bought cell phones after 9/11. It's been 6 years now of instant communication for everyone I know. Almost everyone I know has gone from calling people on their cell in the bagel shop line to emailing everyone their itinerary to writing a blog to now where I have to visit someone's MySpace page to connect with them.

I think the ability to unplug or to function without internet access, etc, seems like one of those anthropological jokes. WE didn't grow up with these things so we think our kids should be able to function without them, but they will never enter a world with less connectivity than we have now- it will only grow, not diminish, so why should it be valuable that they be able to function without a cell phone unless to make us feel like they could function IN OUR CHILDHOOD. In fact their adulthood will have a totally different kind of connectivity.

Posted by: DCer | August 6, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

The world is really a lovely place without electronic gadgets organizing your days.
Here's your answer: What is your job?

My friends are two lawyers. They have staffs of 4-5 people each. They pay these people's salaries and in order to keep paying their salaries and the health insurance of their staffs' kids they have to get clients who can pay for their work. These people are not just expecting some boss to pay their salary, they are the boss and they have to get the clients to pay for their secretary's daughter's surgery.

That is why some people have every reason to need to be connected- they are the boss. They are no different than the real estate agent, house painter, or other person who needs to be available to current and potential clients to pay their bills.

Posted by: DCer | August 6, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

The world is really a lovely place without electronic gadgets organizing your days.

This person reminds me of my mom. Mysteriously none of her cellphones will work regardless of the type. It works fine for 900 million people but hers won't. I imagine you had some golden oldies who didn't like tv's or regular phones when they came out either.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 6, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Well, DCer, you'll be raising pretty dull, unimaginative kids if they absolutely have to be plugged in 24/7. Most likely they'll be poor in their people skills as well and won't be able to spell complete words. My biggest peeve is cell phones -- I refuse to get one. Few things are more annoying than being surrounded by 4-5 people on cells phones, yakking away about their personal problems, money problems, bowel problems, family problems, when all you want is peace and quiet.

Most of our creative efforts -- music, art, literature -- were created long before ipods, TV, and TiVo. People had time to create back in those days. Ever hear of an Irish group called "The Fureys?" They are four brothers who play a total of about 16 instruments between them. They grew up poor in rural Ireland and they had time to teach themselves how to play music. Can your kids do that?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Sabbath-observant Jewish families always have to "unplug" from Friday night at sundown until Saturday night at sundown. The same holds true for about another dozen Jewish days encompassing the annual holidays (Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur and the 3 festivals). For my kids (and myself) that means no electronics (TV, radio, gameboy, ipods, stereos) or telephone for 24 hours every week. Instead they, and we, attend synagogue, play games and some sports, read, get together with friends over leisurely meals (sometimes with singing traditional melodies), & take walks in Rock Creek Park. As they have gotten older this practice has gotten harder, as most of their friends, even the Jewish ones, are not similarly observant. But it is a great way to disconnect and reconnect with other people and the "natural world" on a weekly basis. Since that means about 60+ days per year, the fact that the AU professor actually assigned this for only 24 hours and it was regarded as a way of assessing media impact and a "hardship" was pretty amusing to me.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

1:46 -- My grandmother wasn't Jewish but she was brought up that you did not -- DID NOT -- do any work on Sunday. That included cooking, so she did her Sunday dinner and baking on Saturday evening and saved it for Sunday. No sewing was done, no housecleaning, no laundry, and definitely no stores should be open on Sunday. It was a day for church and family.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

why do we need to experience being unplugged? I think it's important that we, and not the electronic media, own the insides of our heads. They are the last frontier of our freedom and the only source of anything new and original in the world.
My kids aren't particularly plugged in - possibly because they spend part of every summer with the grandparents where the choices are to read, draw, talk, or listen to the radio. Everyone appreciates the break.

Posted by: lurker | August 6, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Well, DCer, you'll be raising pretty dull, unimaginative kids if they absolutely have to be plugged in 24/7.

How could you conceivably think that was my point? Your English comprehension is abysmal. I didn't come close to positing that idea.

Most likely they'll be poor in their people skills as well and won't be able to spell complete words.

Do you think your anonymous troll behavior shows that you have good people skills? Or have you proven through your post to have poor skills that others here mastered?

Few things are more annoying than being surrounded by 4-5 people on cells phones, yakking away about their personal problems, money problems, bowel problems, family problems, when all you want is peace and quiet.

I love people and I love to be around people and I'm raising my kids to be the same, I don't butt my nose into others' affairs and if they want to use cell phones, I have no complaint. I LIKE people. I have no need for "peace and quiet" at the expense of others. Your "me first" attitude is pretty strange. I'm not sure why you'd admit to it in public.

Most of our creative efforts -- music, art, literature -- were created long before ipods, TV, and TiVo.

By definition of "time" and what "time" means this is obvious and not worth writing-- the ipod is new and Rome is old.

However, what about computer programming? It would be pretty myopic, subjective and possibly prejudicial to think that programming is not a creative endeavor equal to that of, let's say a subsection of literature like poetry or essays. Can you really sit there and tell me the finest programs were written prior to the ipod? Is the only definitions of creativity worth pointing out ones that fit your limited, exclusionary worldview?

Don't ask me why I felt it necessary to communicate with an anonymous troll, but I did.

Posted by: DCer | August 6, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

What we're really talking about is a philosophical misunderstanding of the Observer Effect:
which when applied to parenting says that we cannot pull ourselves out of the equation when evaluating our children's behavior and therefore our analyses of these issues are suspect.

We nostalgize for a period of time from our parent's childhood to our own and identify traits or activities that we hold as standards. Our children live in a different time than us, period, and therefore should not continually try to look back to the 1940s, 50s, or 60s for an idealized version of what childhood should be like.

When I was a kid learning the electric guitar was considered really bad. The parents clearly were inviting the kid to do drugs. They had no sense. By 2007 if one was to get their kids ANY music lessons that would be considered a positive step because the ipod is considered a bad thing.

Anyone who studied philosophy at all can see the silliness in trying to project our childhood onto kids today when our own parents felt our childhood was lacking compared to their own. It's better to prepare children for the future than the past, because like the troll's off understanding of what was created prior to the ipod, the future is where we're going to spend the rest of our lives.

ps- yes, I made up the word nostalgize to show the fluctuation of language and grammar that we will face in our lifetimes.

Posted by: DCer | August 6, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

DCer, your first post (the long one asking why kids need to be able to "unplug") bothers me. Don't get me wrong-- I very much see your point. I just hate that it might be right.

Posted by: Regan | August 6, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Growing up, our family vacations included a cabin, a lake, and no tv. As we got older we were allowed to bring out walkmans. Fast forward 15-20 years, and my brother, sister, and I have CHOSEN to relive these summer vacations (together). Every summer we rent a cabin on the lake with our families. No kids yet, but the only electronic device we bring is a cd player/ipod. Cell phone use is spotty, although we do check messages once or twice. Instead we enjoy the time together - talking, swimming, canoeing. We bring board games and spend hours playing. And when we do have kids, they'll get it too. I remember whining at my parents that my friends went on vacation and still had tv. The response was usually - tough luck, you got me as your mom. Want to play a game, read a book, or go for a walk? And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. The next generation may whine when they don't get tv at the cabin, but maybe they'll enjoy their siblings and cousins as adults, like I do.

Posted by: jb | August 6, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I approve of this post because of the mention of my alma mater. :D

I find unplugging to be relatively easy, then again being late 20s, I grew up pre-internet and pre-computer in every household. I still remember my father bringing home a "portable computer" for the first time and it was the size of luggage. Plus I only got a cell phone within the past 8 months and mostly due to the fact that it was free.

Posted by: Yeah AU! | August 6, 2007 3:22 PM | Report abuse

DCer: WTF? What are you bloviating about? Perhaps you have a degree in philosphy and nobody will pay you to use it. Why not open a philosophy store and sell concepts.

Furthermore, it's pretty hard to ignore selfish cell-phoners when they are sitting 2 feet away from you and bellowing at the top of their lungs. Each tries to talk louder than the others. I do enjoy my peace and quiet. I hope we're never, ever in the same room together.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Why does everyone need to unplug? Because self-reflection requires quiet. It's difficult to impossible to contemplate your day and actions while watching tv or surfing the web. The need for silence is important in that the-unexamined-life-isn't-worth-living kind of way.

Additionally, many people purposefully but unconsciously use all this media as a way of blocking out the silence and the reflection it can bring. How many of us have blocked out something that was bothering you by just staying really, really busy? Non-stop media can function the same way.

Posted by: Em | August 6, 2007 3:48 PM | Report abuse

by DCer at August 6, 2007 01:15 PM

"WHY is it valuable to be able to entertain yourself? It was valuable to us to be able to entertain ourselves and make up stories in our head and the like. But our world is gone."

I will try and take a stab at this. There are a few things that I can think of that may form valid reasons:

1) Assuming that it is a skill set that needs to be learned, there are times when you do not have access to these entertaining devices and if you did not know how to entertain yourself without them you could blame your parents for not forcing you to go without every once in a while.

2) There is a philosophical arguemnt as well: Depending on these devices for entertainment or "connection" links you to the companies that produce them by virtue of your dependance. Unlike, say, a toy that you can make on your own or your imagination, these devices cause you to enter a master/client relationship with the company. The same argument is made about other things (healthcare would be a prominent one). Since the company is not concerned with your wellbeing outside of your capacity to give them money, this lowers your status.

3) The ability to entertain yourself, it seems to me, is very much related to the ability to be patient. This ties into the expectation that being "plugged in" produces of one of instant gratification. This, I think, is an illusion as it is especially true that most things that work well involve the kind of long term planning that eschews the kind of "instant gratification" that this technology brings.

4) If you can entertain yourself without any devices other than what you can create yourself, you will never be bored. That is a valuable skill that you never know when you might be able to use.

5) The "connected world" is very divided from the "unconnected world" and in spite of the growing reach of the "connected world" the "unconnected world" is still quite large. I mean this both in terms of people who are connected and areas of the world that are connected. The reasons for this are stubborn. Poverty being an example of something that acts as a barrier between these worlds. Age can be another.

6) I will go out on a limb here and also add the possibility that these technologies actually make relationships less personal and close. The same could be said of other technologies as well, including older ones like the phone.

All of these are somewhat wrapped up in the concept of the "death force" from the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which I am reading currently. It is interesting that it should come up in this blog today.

(And thanks, by the way, for bringing up the Observer Effect. That is something often overlooked that bears repetition.)

Posted by: David S | August 6, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I started talking to a young man on a plane trip several months ago whose child was still a toddler. We talked about people being spoiled in this country (he was just back from Iraq), and we somehow ended up talking about what people did when the power went out (in the 50s-60s). I told him about all the board games and card games my family would play (and of course eating melting ice cream). He did not know who Hoyle was nor had he heard the expression -according to Hoyle-. I suggested he get a book and learn some card games -- no electricity or batteries needed, any number of people can play, and most kids love it.

Posted by: TwoEvils | August 6, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

TwoEvils: I'll bet he didn't know what 'you sound like a broken record' meant either. ;-)

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

To every thing there is a season, etc., etc. There are times when we want or need to be plugged in, and there are other times when we want or need to unplug everything and just enjoy the sounds of silence. It doesn't have to be all of one or the other.

I love having a cell phone, but only because it gives me a sense of security in being able to call for help in an emergency. I don't like to sit and chat on it. It's a tool, not a necessity of life. I love my computer, but I don't sit in front of it every day and depend on it to be my lifeline to the world. I use it for work, some surfing, some e-mail, and then I'm off of it. I don't have an Ipod--just don't want to pay for one, I guess. Maybe someday I will.

I think that technology is wonderful, and I'm glad we have it. It is fun, and it is the wave of the future. However, for one week when we get together with the extended family, we pretty much unplug everything and just talk, take walks, swim, read, gather around the table for meals, and just relax. It helps to be unplugged then.

It isn't all or nothing. Everything in moderation. Or, everything in its own time and place.

Posted by: Lynne | August 6, 2007 4:19 PM | Report abuse

"TwoEvils: I'll bet he didn't know what 'you sound like a broken record' meant either. ;-)"

Or - "Check out the latest album of..."

Posted by: anonforthis | August 6, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Always the extreme way...what about using things for what they can help us with and sticking with reasonable and good limits?

Posted by: Liz D | August 6, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I highly recommend "unplugging." We did so 12 years ago when my daughter's 2nd grade teacher (local public school) got all of the kids to sign "no tv" pledges for a week. At the end of the week, the kids all signed on for a month ... and so it went through the school year and through the summer and ... she's now in college. It really helped to turn the whole experience into a "competition" among the kids. Also, having the kids to excited about "winning" this competition helped convince reluctant parents (like my husband and me) to participate.

During the school year, our kids play computer games only on the weekends (again, the 2nd grade teacher's suggestion).

Overall, my kids are both very strong readers and students. My daughter also is wonderful artist because she spent much of her free time drawing.

You'd be surprised how easy it becomes the longer you keep it up.

Posted by: Boston Parent | August 6, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

My sister and I grew up without a TV--as a consequence, we are both big readers, but also as a consequence, I love having a TV in my house and have it on almost all the time. It's kind of no fun being the only kid who doesn't know the words to the Gilligan's Island song. Oddly, I have my grew-up-in-front-of-the-TV husband to thank for making me turn off the TV and read a book when we come home from work. I doubt I'll be able to give up TV when I have kids, but maybe I'll be able to turn it off once in a while :)... Balance in all things (am I in the wrong blog?)

Posted by: teaspoon2007 | August 6, 2007 6:30 PM | Report abuse

No, teaspoon2007! On Balance has teetered from the start. It is truly a terrible blog!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 8:35 PM | Report abuse

When I was in 9th grade (1979-80), my science teacher gave an extra credit assignment to watch a TV program. After class I told her that I wouldn't be able to do the assignment because my family didn't have a TV. Aghast, she asked why, and when I explained that it broke, she said, "Oh, my TV was broken for a week, and I could barely stand it" (or something like that). After that comment, I didn't explain that ours had broken nearly two years previously and no one in the family felt the need to replace it. Eventually we did, but watching TV was never a big thing at our house.

As an adult, I lived for over 10 years without a TV. I have now inherited one, but don't have cable (and the TV is in the basement), so we don't get any channels. My younger daughter and I don't miss it much, but my older daughter (8) is much more of a TV fiend.

As for other electronics, I don't have a cell phone, but I do like my landline phone and especially the answering machine. No ipod, but lots of cds for the house and car. I

How to amuse myself and the girls? At home, bikes, board games, cooking projects, reading, hikes, lots of pretend play (for the girls, not me). On car trips (mostly 4 hours or less), I pack special bags for them with surprises (books, car games, little dolls and small stuffed animals). They also pack a few things to keep them occupied. A new CD works wonders if they are beginning to get antsy. I try to leave very early and eat breakfast on the road, not at a fast food place. I have also taken their scooters along to use at rest stops. Another good way to break up the trip is to stop at a children's museum or other kid friendly site for a few hours.

Posted by: single mother by choice | August 6, 2007 9:32 PM | Report abuse

For almost ten years, I raised our children without television. We actually sold our tv to pay for my daughter's first birthday party, and I felt I was truly doing her a favor.
My kids very much enjoy reading and writing together, drawing, playing outside, and tending to their animals as a result of all their unplugged years....
A few years ago a friend of ours offered to sell us his television and vcr for gas money ($40) to drive back to TN, where he was from.I was against the idea, but my husband and the kids outvoted me, and the friend pacified me by "breaking" the tv so it would only get channels 03 (for dvd and vcr) and 29, which was the public television channel where we lived. Ironically enough,channel 29 ended up being NBC when we moved.
However, despite now having one in the house, the kids really only watch one show or movie a week by choice, and I (who grew up in a house with 4-5 televisions) have a hard time turning it off. I find that the children I know (not just mine) that live without much tv to be creative and less wanting of all the things tv advertises.
I realize I may live to eat my words, but spending my kids' baby- and toddlerhoods without a tv in the house made for some magical times; I certainly do not regret having lived without one for as long as we did.

As an aside, if you ever NEED a tv, or feel you do, tell everyone you know that you have "given up tv" for philosophical reasons - everyone you know will be rushing to give you some extra television "they don't use". It is a curious side-effect of the tv-free life.

Posted by: mminsvva | August 7, 2007 12:11 AM | Report abuse

My daughter's 3, so I don't have to "implement" it - I just say when we can watch t.v. and for how long. We've had great success by limiting actual t.v. watching and instead watching DVDs or shows on videotape, which means I can control better how much she watches and when. Thankfully she's not really "computer age" yet.

I don't think I'm living in the dark ages (I check email 2x a day) but I've never understood how and why people are so "connected" all the time. My husband bought us cell phones after 9/11 but neither of us really ever used them. Now we have one phone - it's a pre-paid and it takes me months to go through one phone card's worth of time. When we go on vacation we aren't desperate to check email or anything like that, although we do enjoy watching the news since we don't always have time to at home.

Posted by: viennamom | August 7, 2007 8:28 AM | Report abuse

less wanting of all the things tv advertises.

Anyone who watches plain old commercial tv without fast forwarding commercials gets the kids they deserve. I would never let my kids watch tv at the time its broadcast- that's inviting problems.

This is a straw man, that the only idea is "unplugging" vs "Watching commercials." It's specious reasoning.

Tivo (and MythTV and various other devices) solve all that. Tivo brings you the obscure educational shows PBS runs at 6am for the kids to your 8pm viewing hour.

My kids don't watch commercials unless I'm getting a drink of water when they come on.

Posted by: DCer | August 7, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

*What he forgot to mention were 2,224 times they asked "are we there yet?". I thank God every trip for the dvd player.*

pATRICK, you sound skeptical. Truthfully, our kids very rarely ask that question. Sure, they often ask *where are we?*, but that's a totally different question both in content and in attitude. Plus it's a great discussion starter because it's not a yes or no question. (In the past year, the answer to the *where are we* question might have been: Cumberland Gap, TN; Ontario; Manitowoc, WI; Chicago; Iowa City; or Mackinac Island, MI.)

And even if they did ask *where are we* over and over, I'd prefer that to having their brains turning to mush by watching dvds for 16 straight hours. At least they are communicating.

Posted by: don | August 7, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Few things are more annoying than being surrounded by 4-5 people on cells phones, yakking away about their personal problems, money problems, bowel problems, family problems, when all you want is peace and quiet.

I love people and I love to be around people and I'm raising my kids to be the same, I don't butt my nose into others' affairs and if they want to use cell phones, I have no complaint. I LIKE people. I have no need for "peace and quiet" at the expense of others. Your "me first" attitude is pretty strange. I'm not sure why you'd admit to it in public."
Sorry, but I am with anonymous on this. I totally do not see the logic between liking people, and not wanting to be constantly hearing their inane phone conversations everywhere! Why is this at the "expense of others?" To me THEY are the ones being rude, at the expense of everyone around them! And when someone is yapping on their phone, they are NOT interacting with those around them. So much for liking to be with people, I just don't follow how standing around someone yapping on their phone qualifies as interacting at all??? (I suspect you approve because you probably do this all the time yourself in public...)

And nothing is ruder to me than seeing someone getting waited on by a service person and not having the courtesy to hang up and interact with (and thank) the person ringing up their order, etc.

Posted by: CJB | August 7, 2007 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Hmm... responding to the very valid question: do kids really benefit from unplugging? Not sure.. but as a mom, I know I do. When my boys (ages 8 and 10) watch TV, they are happy and quiet for that time, and I appreciate the "break." Once we turn it off, however, they are almost invariably grouchy, sullen, "bored." On our regular TV-free days, however, they know that they have to entertain themselves, reading or drawing or futzing around, and there is far less griping and moodiness. Works for me.

Posted by: KAC | August 8, 2007 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I am an only child and grew up in a house where I was very much encouraged to be self-entertaining. My mom and dad were very loving and attentive, but also conscious of what an annoying brat an only child could turn out to be if she expects to be entertained by adults 24/7 (and then carries this into her later years). I have had friends who are very needy and, very often, as they describe their childhood experiences to me, it becomes obvious to me that any time they said "I'm bored," their parents jumped up to provide entertainment.

I'm not sure this is totally responsive to the question of why kids need to learn to unplug, but I do think that good old fashioned fun (I am 28, so no granny comments, please) is a good experience for kids and that playing on the internet and with electronics are not a good substitute for that. I guess a kid who does not learn to be self-entertaining could grow up to be an adult who spends 24/7 on the internet, but that's terrible to even think about in terms of where we are going as a society.

Posted by: My Two Cents | August 9, 2007 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Don't know if I could go without a radio or CD player. No way I would want to give up music.

Posted by: flicka | August 11, 2007 9:13 AM | Report abuse

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