Ep. 4: Giving Kids’ Phones a “Vacation”


Giving Kids' Phone a "Vacation"“We want this party to be with all the girls being present and in the moment
with their friends.”
-Ashley, Parent

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Ashley’s Facebook post caught my attention – it was a photo of the text she had sent to the parents of the 22 (yes, you read that correctly, TWENTY-TWO!) girls invited to her 12-year-old daughter’s sleep-over swim party.

I am sharing Ashley’s ideas here so that other parents can decide if a “phone vacation” might be a good idea for a future social event. Perhaps we can start a trend of parents setting limits on screens and media usage not only for their own kids but for other kids they’re hosting?


Ashley’s text to parents of girls invited to her daughter’s party

As soon as I saw Ashley’s post, I shared it on my Facebook page with this comment:

“This is an absolutely brilliant way to set limits on phone use for a bday party! HOORAY, Ashley! I highly recommend copying her text for your child’s future events — what about even for when just one child comes over?

Until we parents decide to set limits and create space for our kids to enjoy each other and have fun without their screens, they will continue to follow the lead of the majority of the people in the world (adults and kids alike) and be glued to their phones and disconnected from real people. YAY for UNPLUGGED birthday parties! Let’s start a new trend AND applaud and support parents who insist on real connection. If I had a 12-year-old daughter, I’d definitely want her at THAT party!

How, as a parent in this unbelievably screen and media-focused era, do we best supervise other people’s kids’ phone use when they are with us?

This is something we all need to think about and decide what action we’re willing to take.


A Fantastic Phone “Vacation” Spot!

Thanks to Ashley, we have some great ideas! First, we can let people know in advance about any planned screen-free time. Next, we can make it fun by having a “Phone Vacation” spot that makes it playful to give phones a break. (I’d like to use that one with adults, too!)

Ashley did a great job outlining her and her husband Chris’ expectations for their daughter’s party. Both the parents and the kids attending knew ahead of time what to expect – and weren’t surprised – that this was going to be an “unplugged” event.

Before the event, she posted this comment with a picture of the empty “Phone Vacation” basket: “Drew’s winter swim/sleepover party is on Friday, but my basket for the cell phones is already ready. I hope the girls who bring their phones are ready to send them on vacation for about 18 hours.”

I was not surprised to learn from Ashley that the typical pre-teen sleep-over these days includes a lot of photos, videos, and social media posting. By explaining the reason for the “phone vacation,” Ashley made it clear that this was to keep the party’s focus on the fun and real connection. According to Ashley, most parents responded positively to her text. Only one parent wasn’t happy about it, and they, of course, had the option of not having their daughter attend.

Because being “unplugged” is one of the central philosophies at my camp, I have done a lot of research on the benefits of screen breaks. I’ve also put a lot of effort into communicating our philosophy and policy to our camp community, including the details of how we stay unplugged at camp. (e.g. “No, e-readers are not allowed.”  “Yes, your camper flying from another country will have their phone while they travel.”) Our campers and counselors willingly agree to give up their phones and any phone usage – even forgoing those precious SnapChat streaks – to come to camp. And it’s comfortable because everyone else is doing the same thing. Soon they all realize how much more fun they are having without their phones, and many embrace their technology break and become believers in getting unplugged.

But it’s a lot easier at an institution like a summer camp to be clear and consistent about screen use than it is at home. After all, most of us don’t want to be “that” mom – the one who is “mean” or “unreasonable,” especially with other people’s kids. We want kids to have fun at our homes. I applaud Ashley for her willingness to go out on a limb by creating appropriate expectations ahead of time.

What the girls coming to the party would have otherwise expected – the kids who already have their own smartphones or iPads, at least – was that they would be using their devices throughout the event, taking and posting photos and videos, creating music.ly videos (according to Ashley, the latest preteen craze). Ashley and her husband Chris were not comfortable with the girls taking and posting photos and videos from their home, especially with girls being in swimsuits. I interviewed Ashley after the party to see how she decided to send this text and how the phone collection and the party went, and she had a lot of good news to report. You can listen to the interview on my podcast here.

Even before I chatted with Ashley, I knew the party (and the “phone vacation”) was a success based on her Facebook post after the party:
“When you can get 22 girls together for a sleepover, all of whom are in 6th grade, and there is no drama, no excluding, no whispering, no tears AND there are lots of hugs, manners, kindness, singing, and fun – you must thank the parents and the school for enforcing, reinforcing, and tolerating only the best for each of these girls. I am so very thankful my kids are a part of this.”

I applaud Ashley and other parents who are making the effort to help foster more real connections and breaks from phones/social media! Let’s keep sharing our ideas of ways to help our kids foster more real, face-to-face connections!

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