Post-Apocalypse news flash: four young boys survive a month without phones.
“You know dad, I think that over the course of this month I’ve noticed that so many kids are just glued to their phones and they don’t experience anything going on around them. I just don’t want that for my future.”
At least a few lifetimes ago, we decided to depart on our holiday without cell phones for the kids. We adults do have them but used them for maps and reservations and photos. We’re also more conscientious because the kids don’t have them so we’re also not on them nearly as much.
It’s been brutal at times, but also gloriously disconnected, and truly family building.
“I finally got to know my brother. I mean, yeah, I know who he is, but without a phone glued to my hand every minute, I never really knew him beyond just another player in our online game. OK, he lives in our house, but well, yeah. Mom, did you know that he has blue eyes?”
They played games at dinner, they talked about politics and the news (or at least what they could pick up from the Thai news stations), and even looked out the window on endless minivan journeys to catch a ferry boat.
“It’s weird, you know. I mean, it’s like I have so many friends, but then I think that I only know them online. I don’t really know them know them. I also realized that I wouldn’t dare say half the stuff I do online with the person sitting next to me. It was crazy to see how people live who don’t have phones all the time. Kinda weird, but kinda cool too.”
We traveled together with another family who also had addicted-to-their-screen boys of 11 and 13. We tried to keep them busy with daily activities like a Thai cooking course and bamboo rafting.
“You know what was kind of cool about that cooking class? I didn’t take a photo of every dish that I made and share it on Insta. I had to use my memory instead of the camera on my phone, so maybe I’ll remember it better now. That was kind of weird if I have to be honest about it.”
They were allowed to read books on their Kindles — and they all have Kindles. They read lots of books. They read on trains, on buses, while waiting in line for a ticket, or even sometimes walking through a town.
“I saw the movie of the book I’m reading but in the book I really got to know the characters. I mean, I really got into it, you know? Also, without my phone nearby all the time, I was able to focus for longer periods of time.”
Here’s an untouched photo of the boys on the train … drawing. Those are pencils and paper in case kids didn’t recognize them.
“When we get home, I think we should have a limit on screen time per day. I have to admit that I was pretty addicted to my screen and probably looked at it 329 times per day, but if we have limits on time when we’re on them and then times when we’re all off, it’ll probably be better for our whole family.”
Of course there’s going to be the inevitable harsh reality of peer pressure back home with friends who are logged in and checked out, but maybe we’ll have this month to look back on as a time when we escaped from the grip of the screen and can hold onto some of the positive aspects of a screen limited life.
“Dad, I hate to admit it, but I wanted to thank you for not letting us bring our phones on this vacation. At first, I was really mad at you, but now I see that it’s really opened my eyes to a whole other world out there. Thanks, dad. I love you.”
I’m overjoyed at how the month went. Introducing the boys to media they hadn’t experienced since maybe kindergarten: drawing with pencils on paper, reading books at all hours of the day, building sand castles, playing frisbee, and even playing tag in the ocean.
There’s hope that just this experimental month could possibly make a dent in the depth of addicted screen kids. Tomorrow is judgment day.
Wish us luck and send us a note … on a postcard.
This section below is completely optional.
It’s even a little dangerous like those movie reviews where they warn you in the paragraph above: Spoiler Alert!
In fact, if you’re sobbing even a little at the beauty of the reconnection of our family values, dear unconditional love for one another, and purely sappy and gushy dreamland of a family fantasy, just stop reading right now and go enjoy the rest of your day. Fill it with hopes and good cheer and try to play Monopoly with your family. Close your browser window right now.
Now. Wipe away those tears of joy from the hope that you might again dream of a chance that you connect with your kids again. Are you sitting down? Do you have some more tissue? I’m just going to lay it out for you straight: Most all of the above is a complete fabrication.
The quotes above are about as authentic as a Louis Vuitton bag at the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai.
Yes, they read books. Sure, they played in the ocean. They even talked to each other more. But offered the choice of a trip to the moon on a rainbow unicorn or getting a phone in their hands for an hour? Pass the charger.
“Dad, see that family over there? 7 of the 9 people at the table are on their phones.” — 11-year old phone-less boy (this one is real)
It did open their eyes to a screen-free world even though they would, with all of their heart, rather be back in the screen world.
Full disclosure: the month actually went well. Really well. My mom reminds me that I played the Atari 2600 until my fingers were sore. We, as parents, have to choose our battles but win the war. If my 13-year-old son picked up the tiniest of new habits in the past month, it was a win for us all.
I’m also pretty sure that if you asked my son what color his brother’s eyes are, he would have no idea. But hey, he’s a boy. He’s 13. And that’s his brother we’re talking about.
If you’re up for some even more depressing reading on the subject: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.