Can You Survive the 'Unplugged' Challenge?

June 29, 2015

Last summer's "Ice Bucket Challenge" had a profoundly positive effect. If you're not familiar with it, the premise was simple. People nominated specific friends, usually via Facebook. Those friends (or family) had a choice:

  1. Pour a bucket of ice water over themselves, film it, and post it as proof.
  2. Donate money to the ALS Association to avoid the ice bucket.

This campaign went viral during the summer of 2014. The campaign raised $15.6 million in a few months compared with $1.8 million raised in the same time period in 2013.

The concept of a "challenge" is interesting, because it's inherently social and it compels us to get out of our comfort zone. What if we applied the same logic to our use of technology in the home?

While unplugging can be good for you in and of itself, the best use of this activity is to help kids and adults critically observe their own powerful relationships with digital devices.

Your Own "Unplugged" Challenge

Choose an evening, weekend, or another set period of time in which you and your kids can unplug. You can set your own rules, but it's most effective if you can shut off all devices—including the computer. You may have to navigate around homework schedules and other things, but the point is to set aside a large block of time where you are not using any technology.

You can run this as a voluntary activity or maybe even as a fundraiser for a school or community group. Are there parents or others in the community that will make a donation (per unplugged hour, perhaps?) to support your efforts?

While unplugging can be good for you in and of itself, the best use of this activity is to help kids and adults critically observe their own powerful relationships with digital devices. By raising awareness, you can help your whole family focus on what is positive in our connected lives and notice things that you may wish to change.

How do you get started?

Before the challenge:

In advance, brainstorm through potential resistance to the idea. When presented with this challenge, most will say it is “impossible” to unplug. Try to co-create solutions to these objections, together with your child.

During the challenge:

Have them keep a journal (paper, of course!) of their unplugged experiences.

Encourage them to make notes in their journal of what times in the day they feel most discomfort at not being able to check in with text messages or social media.

Do they feel some relief from the obligations of being connected all the time?

After the challenge:

Talk about their experience. What was the best—and the worst—thing about being unplugged? Try to identify a few common areas to discuss.

Would you unplug again? Would a regular unplugged time every week be a good idea? Why or Why not?

This exercise, "The Unplugged Challenge," is a condensed version of the one that appears in my new book (co-authored with Karen Jacobson), Connecting Wisely & Well in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids (YouthLight, 2015). It offers more great exercises, such as the The "Digital Kindness" Challenge, that help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing challenges of the digital world. While it's pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. I'd love to hear your feedback on this—especially if you've tried it or are going to try it. As you know, I'm generally very tech-positive. I think that the benefits outweigh the pitfalls, especially when we as mentors are aware, engaged, and active about helping our kids with the challenges of technology.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Devorah Heitner

Dr. Devorah Heitner is the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools seeking advice on how help children thrive in a world of digital connectedness. Devorah's TEDx focuses on raising thoughtful kids in the digital age.

An experienced speaker, workshop leader, and consultant, Dr. Heitner serves as a professional development resource for schools wishing to cultivate a culture of responsible digital citizenship and parent engagement. She works directly with parents and families, and is currently writing a handbook for parents, titled, "Raising Your Digital Native." Dr. Heitner has a Ph.D. in Media/Technology and Society from Northwestern University and has published and spoken in the field of media studies for the past ten years. She has worked with excellent public and independent K-12 schools across the United States and has taught at DePaul University, Street Level Youth Media, and Northwestern University. She is delighted to be raising her own digital native, too.

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