Teenagers and cell phones. Inseparable? As the first generation to grow up not just empowered by technology, but tethered to it, researchers will be studying our kids and the effects of this phenomenon for decades. Right now, however, from our parental perch we can see a few things pretty clearly.
It’s not all bad. For starters, a teenager with a wifi connection can knock out just about any school-related assignment without going anywhere. We also know that a teen can spend an entire evening alone in his or her room and still be with hundreds of friends.
We know that technology can make teens resourceful, independent, and informed. We also know that it can make them distant, distracted, and disengaged. What we don’t necessarily know or get to see is what happens when our teens are unplugged. Not just the punishment kind of unplugged. Not just the 5-hours-while-they’re-asleep kind of unplugged. We’re talking about four-weeks-of-outdoor-fun kind of unplugged.
Unplugged teens experience life without a filter
Our teens live in a world where information is curated and most images are not what they seem. High school is hard enough when they’re trying to keep up with what they hear and see in real life, before you even add in the digital misconceptions streaming on their phones. Spending the summer surrounded by their peers, swimming, singing, and camping, talking late at night in their bunks, and waking up in the morning, they see each other’s true selves and build strong, genuine relationships.
Unplugged teens are where their feet are
When their noses are in their feeds, teens are everywhere but where they actually are. They’re at one person’s party, on another person’s vacation, or in someone else’s workout. With their phones down and their heads up, teens can be fully present. From challenging themselves on a high ropes course or in a kayak to immersing themselves in dirt, clay, dance, or song, when our kids are present they learn, grow, and have an amazing time.
Unplugged teens are honest with themselves
One of the effects of living in the social media age is how the urge to post or share isn’t just something to do after an experience, it begins to influence what teens actually do. Which adventure, activity, outfit, expression would look better in their feed? When teens stop worrying about what their followers are going to think, they can follow their own hearts and interests. It frees them up to think about how they really want to spend Shabbat this week, what trip would be the most fun, and which program they would truly enjoy.
Technology isn’t bad. It just isn’t everything. When we help our teens unplug for a bit, we can show them how great everything around them really is.