An Unplugged Summer?

Upland Hills Health Portraits

Danielle Bernacchi is a Family Nurse Practitioner at the Upland Hills Health Spring Green and Mount Horeb clinics. Her professional interests include whole family care, wellness, weight management and developmental disorders.

As the Beatles once coined, “Here comes the sun and it’s alright…”

Yes parents, summer is almost here!?! Some are smiling. Others are bewildered, ticking down the days until school starts in the fall. Many have plans. Yet many are still wondering, “what we are going to do with our children all day long?”

Answer: Unplug them! Get them outside and let them be kids.It seems simple, right? Unplug my child and let him/her run around and enjoy the beauty of summer.  Let him/her experience childhood the same way I did. Simple. Easy.

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If only it were that easy. A 21st century human being is so plugged into the world, constantly bombarded by stimuli, that it is unnerving to even contemplate life without the background noise. Life?!? Try going a minute!

And it is that much worse for our children; the constant noise is the only world they know. In contemplating the silence of an unplugged summer, a myriad of questions come to mind… “How do I unplug my child?”, “What do I do with him/her?”, “How do I keep him from getting bored and whining?”, “What do I do with him/her when I need a break?”, and so on…The answers start with a plan, a battle plan. While everyone’s plans will vary, here are some ways to get out this summer.

MAKE SUMMER  A CHALLENGE
Most children, these days are not as easily entertained and distractible as you and I once were. Getting them to buy into the idea of unplugging from the devices will not be easy unless you make your plan more tantalizing.  And what is more tantalizing than a bet or dare? Everyone loves to have the chance to prove someone wrong. It is innate. We all love to prove each other wrong.

Your child is no different. Take whatever you want your child to accomplish this summer and make it a challenge!  A contest. Set realistic goals, give a daily encouragement, and pick a reasonable prize. That is the formula for a summer challenge. Here are some simple examples to get you started (obviously substitute what your child likes as rewards):
“I am worried about my son’s weight.” 
Challenge him to play actively outside, at home or in the neighborhood, for at least 60 minutes every day. If he meets that goal, he will earn a 30 minute glow bath daily and free movie and popcorn in the fall.
“I am worried about my daughter’s reading level dropping over the summer.”
Challenge her to read 50 books over the summer. If she meets that goal, she will earn 20 minutes of dance time each day (with you) and a day of bowling in the fall.
“I am worried about my son’s math grades dropping in the fall.”
Challenge him to do a math worksheet every day. If he meets this goal, he earns time to do a craft or science experiment with you that week, and a dinner at his favorite restaurant in the fall.

Check your local library too. Their summer reading programs may give you more ideas.

GAME TIME
Many parents ask how they can get their child out of the house and away from the media. Building on the idea of making summer a challenge, make it a game.  Make it fun to be outdoors. Find something that your child likes and do it outside.  Nature bingo, giant jenga, sidewalk monopoly, outdoor picnics…the possibilities are endless.  (If you need ideas, search Pinterest for “screen time”, “summer fun” or “outdoor games.”)

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ALL INCLUSIVE
It is an inherent need to feel included; a part of something larger. This is true for every human being but especially for children. Have your child join an activity, club, or sport. Join a summer swim team, soccer club, dance club, or other sports team. Does your child like nature? Have him/her join girl scouts or boy scouts (membership is not limited to the school year). Want something more ethereal? Send your child to a vacation bible school. Joining an activity will not only allow your child to get out of the house and away from the media. It will give him/her the chance to be included in the community, make new friends, learn new things, and grow as an individual. (And you as the parent have the added benefit of getting a little “you” time).

THE GAME IS CALLED ON ACCOUNT OF RAIN?!? 
What is a weary parent to do when it rains? Well, I guess  there are two schools of thought on this…the postal service and the lemonade. The postal service school of thought, “neither rain nor sleet…” would hold that it is  just water and therefore should not be a problem. Let your child get wet and have fun in the rain. The lemonade school of thought; “make lemons into lemonade”  suggests that you can have fun without the TV. Make a fort and tell stories by flash light, play charades; play card games, look at photo albums, take turns teaching each other new skills, or take an imaginary vacation. The possibilities are endless, requiring nothing but time and love. Avoiding the TV/media noise will help you tune into each other as a family.

UNPLUG
Now that I have outlined behaviors and distractions for your unplugged summer battle plan, I can discuss the scariest and most important prospect to silencing the noise…UNPLUG.That’s right, I said it. Unplug. Unplug the TV, X-Box, PS-whatever, iPads, and smartphones. Hide the devices.

I have tried this with my own son and seen it work. He was literally a different kid after 6 weeks without his iPad. 6weeks? Yes. He went without his iPad for 6 WHOLE WEEKS! (It started out as a week-long punishment but grew to six weeks because I forgot where I hid the darn thing). After the first week he had forgotten about it.  By the third week he was reading, writing, and drawing amazing things…and bonus, he wasn’t whining. By the time I found it again, he didn’t care for it, even when it was offered.

LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY
Six weeks? It seems impossible, right? The prospect is overwhelming , to say the least.All that time? All that boredom? All that whining? All that SILENCE?

What is a weary parent to do? Where does the parent go to get a mental break, to tune out the hustle and bustle of the world AND parenthood?

Answer: Enjoy the sounds of silence. If it is good for our children to unplug, then could it be good for us too? Of course it is. The truth is the constant bombardment of stimuli and its adverse effects are not limited to our children. We suffer the same problems but chalk it up to aging or illness. The fact is we are over-stimulated. It is as bad, if not worse, for adults to be over-stimulated. Our brains are not as plastic as they were in our youth. This means we are slower to recover thoughts and have increased difficulty concentrating.

So how do we fix this? We lead by example. We, as parents, unplug from the world for a period of time every day. Understanding that it is nearly impossible to completely disconnect from the world, I offer you this advice: Set a realistic goal and reward yourself for attaining it. How one accomplishes this is similar to the battle plan that you have set for your child. Pick something that you want to work on or like to do, set a time frame, and try to do it each day.

In addition to unplugging from your devices, consider joining your child outside. The health benefits of exercise, sunlight, play, and family bonding are numerous and well documented.  Lead your media-stubborn child into the great wide world but putting down your device and picking them up.

My own summer goals:

  • Take 5 minutes of silence in the outdoors each day, shutting out all chatter, work, worries, and concerns.
  • Teach my son two new outdoor games
  • Stop using my email as a distraction when waiting for appointments

Good luck this summer!  Danielle B…tuning out.