Have kids power down so they power up

By Tom Holland May 17, 2016

I was on my way to one of our many in-home presentations across the country. Running a little late, my plane landed, I grabbed a rental car and typed into my phone the address I needed to get to. The voice at the other end awoke and carefully navigated me through the big city, getting each and every turn exactly right.

‘In a half mile, take a right on Washington…’

You know the voice.

And then something catastrophic happened: my phone began to flash ‘Connect to charger.’

The screen then went black, and I slowed my car down and felt as if vertigo had taken over. I glanced around to see if I recognized the area, but as I tried to retrace my steps I only became more lost. My phone had been doing all the thinking for me and I could not even recognize the surroundings from which I had come.

I felt helpless and lost without that voice in my phone.

Have you ever felt that way before? Electronics can free us when they operate correctly and then cripple us when their screen goes to black. Fortunately, my childhood, probably like yours, was mostly electronic-free (save the tv and the home phone), so in this moment of vertigo I had the opportunity to fall back on my brain to guide through the moment, find a map (yes, a physical map) and guide myself to the home just in time for the show.

But, I worry about our children today who do not have the luxury of being raised in a smartphone free world. Here are the daunting stats:

  • On average, teens spend over 9 hours per day on an electronic device
  • Nearly 3 hours each day is spent on a smartphone, and 2 hours watching videos[1]

While the time we spend on electronic devices is consistently on the rise, time in the outdoors for teenagers is at an all-time low. On an average day, just 10% of teenagers spend time outside.[2]

With the prevalence of electronics in our children’s life, my worry is that when their device loses power, they will feel like they have lost power, too. Additionally, more and more children are using their devices as the sole connections to others. Actual person to person communication has been replaced by ‘Facetime’ and teens measure their status by the ‘likes’ they receive and the number of ‘friends’ they have on social media. These devices are tools to assist in life and connect us to each other, but we should not feel helpless or feel that our only ‘connections’ are those that we have online. Rather, we need to create experiences so that our children know that the very best tool they have been given is their own brain and they need not rely on Siri to solve the problem. Moreover, they should feel confident in the personal relationships that they have with others.

So as parents, how do we do this?

Maximize out of school time to connect with nature, emphasize critical thinking, and creativity. Let nature and the other human connections you will have in such an environment be the antidote. Consider enrolling your child in a summer camp type program, like Wilderness Adventures, where they will unplug to reconnect. Let nature and personal connections without electronics be your child’s charger– where they power down their computer to power up their mind. When we provide these opportunities for our kids, we will help them to create a balance with electronics that they will benefit from for their whole life.


[1] Common Sense Media

[2] The Nature Conservancy