How to Become an Unplugged Parent

by April 25, 2014
filed under Life

Alexis Marie Chute Parenting Unplugged-002Technology has changed modern parenting – for better or worse. It’s impossible to fight it these days, and should we? My husband Aaron, a high school vice principal, is working on a BYOD program for his division. BYOD meaning, bring your own device. He’s also implementing the use of software that allows students to work on group project simultaneously online, share files and take exams on iPads. There are those that oppose these technologies, while others buy their children devices at an extremely young age. Bye, bye baby rattle, hello iPad mini.

There are many nice perks of technology for family use, one being added connectivity. When in Boston for school residencies, I say goodnight to my kids on FaceTime. Obviously I’d rather be home with my daughter and son, but FaceTime or Skype are better options than being a disembodied voice through a receiver. Both kids kissed my face on the screen and carry the digital version of me around the house, frequently fighting over screen time with mommy.

Screen time for kids is a tricky one. Again, it all comes back to connectivity. Technology can bring us together or nudge out actual meaningful interaction. When my children, four and two years old, are allowed to play with our family’s two iPads, they become deadened to the world outside their 6×8 inch screens. “Eden, what do you want for a snack?” “Hannah, do you have to go potty?” I’ll ask these questions over and over, my voice raising an octave. I’ll touch their shoulders, ruffle their hair – nothing. It’s like they cannot hear or see me, which is worrisome.

There are a plethora of amazing apps and developmental games for kids that have helped my children learn letters, numbers, music, art and about the environment, not to mention develop creative and logic-based problem solving. For these things I’m thankful, but what about all that can be learned by observing and participating in the world around us?

One question I continually ask Aaron in light of new scholastic innovations is, “what will happen to school libraries?” “They’ll change,” he tells me. “There will be more digital resources… but there will always be books, especially in elementary schools.” I bite my nails. As a writer, I love books; their smell, cracking the spine, dog-earing their pages, saving and collecting, sharing and re-reading. My daughter, on the other hand, would rather use a device when sitting on the toilet; bathroom reading is being transformed into another opportunity for screen time.

I have to admit, my kids are frequently allowed iPads is in the car. They get wildly impatient on road trips, even short ones, and scream and fuss in their car seats as if restrained by straightjackets. As our family is planning a road trip to British Columbia this summer, I’m already lamenting the beautiful mountain views my kids will miss as we drive Highway 97. Will they be too busy playing Toca Band to sing the song my mother taught me that counts the tunnels along the way from Edmonton to the Okanogan?

With the swift advances in technology and it’s just as rapid integration into family life, what can parents do to safe guard true connection and other meaningful ways to be in the world?

I strongly believe that children learn by example. My daughter is a drama queen because, well, she learned it firsthand from me (that’s so embarrassing to admit). Even Hannah’s facial expressions, I sometimes observe in my own reflection. “Oh, that’s where she gets it from.”

All this leads me to wonder at my own relationship to technology. With everything I do for work, being connected is important – and I love it. Throughout the day, I check my email and social networks on my phone and use my computer to edit photos, prepare work for art galleries, research and blog. My children observe this behavior.

What upsets me greatly is how often I catch myself checking my phone while playing with Hannah and Eden. “If it bothers you so much, stop doing it stupid!” I say to myself, but the connectivity is like an addition. Is there a twelve-step program for people like me? If not, there should be.

Even our culture’s obsession with selfies and documenting every event of life can get in the way of living. The desire to record overrides the engagement of the moment. When I go for walks with my kids, I often bring my camera or phone to take pictures – but wouldn’t it be better to step inside the moment? Instead of watching from the outside, I long to be fully present with my children, to run and roll in the grass with them, to laugh and play together.

I remember when I was a kid, pre iPhones and tablets; my own busy working mother sometimes had that far off look when we talked that told me she was mentally back at the office. Then there were other times where I felt she truly heard me and the love and peace I experienced in those moments was beyond compare, an unexplainable gift for a young person. That is what I want to bestow on my children, my full and undivided attention. I want them to feel loved and important – and it all comes back to what I model for them in my parenting.

Thus, my goal is to be an unplugged parent. I’m going to put my phone in another room so it doesn’t tempt me during family time. I’ll leave the camera at home and show my children how to experience the world in an active and engaged manner. There will be limits to screen time but unlimited exposure to books, libraries and opportunities for learning. When my kids talk, I will look them in the eye, listen to every word they say and speak back into their lives having heard them fully. I will lead by example; I think it will be good for all of us.

Alexis Marie Chute is an artist, photographer and writer. You can find her at and

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