How to Get Teens to Unplug – and Because We Know They Want To


If you think I mean “unplug” as in something to do with the environment, maybe you ought to plug in.  But chances are, you already know that average teens can be addicted to smartphones and social media, as are many adults, such that it’s changing social etiquette norms.  

A recent study by Common Sense Media shows that 49% of the teens surveyed preferred to talk in person with others. Texting was the second most preferred method of communication at 33%, a landslide of a difference between social networks (7%), phone (4%) and on Twitter (1%).

While social media can have a positive impact such as keeping in touch with friends who live far away, building upon existing relationships or forming new ones, it’s great that teens (at least the ones surveyed) are cognizant that nothing really beats the face-to-face interaction with other individuals.  And it’s something that adults should probably focus more on too.  Forty-five percent of teens surveyed said that they were sometimes “frustrated with friends for texting, surfing the Internet, or checking their social networking sites while they’re hanging out together.”

I’m guilty of it myself.  But after several dings, I kind of want to know if it’s an emergency.  In a business meeting, however, it’s easy to ignore the phone, especially when it’s on silent.

Using that logic, here are some suggestions to get teens (and adults) to “unplug”, even if it’s just for an hour or two, to enjoy life and smell the roses (especially if you’re in a botanical garden and the admission was $20 per person):

  • Turn the phone on vibrate.  You can still keep notifications on, but set them so that there’s no audible noise to accompany them.  If there’s a phone call, you’ll still know by the longer vibrations substituting a ringtone.
  • Adopt the policy that if it’s an emergency, you’ll get a phone call.  Email, by nature, generally warrants a longer response time.  People aren’t always at a computer, might not have signal, might not have a keyboard handy on which to type.  When imminently meeting someone, then by all means, check email to see if there’s a change in plan, but otherwise, assume that emails are not for urgent matters and can wait.
  • You don’t have to go cold turkey.  Social media and “being connected” are ingrained into our daily lives now, that it’s the sort of pace at which we’re used to the world moving.  Unless travelling to remote deserts or Arctic Tundra, there’s really no reason to threaten someone with a lack of Internet access since there’s a lot to miss over the course of several days.  However, unplugging for a half-day or a day can be a good relaxing change from the rapid-fire exchanges that happen over social media networks like Twitter.
  • Try harder to spend time with people in person.  You might not get away with avoiding phones for the whole time (since people tend to carry phones instead of a watch these days), but quality time really is the best in person since nonverbal actions account for 55% of communication, and 38% is vocal and only 7% for actual words.
  • Sometimes people need to unplug.  Post-breakups are an excellent time for teens (or anyone) to unplug.  Parents, who really should be friends with their kids on social media networks like Facebook, can monitor profile pages and block any unsavoury wall posts or messages.  Vulnerable and emotional teens can be prone to posting unfiltered thoughts, and without better judgment for inappropriate content and the social backlash, here’s where parents can, and really should, step in.
  • You don’t have to lose sight of tweets forever.  Lately, I’ve really taken to using Pocket to read interesting tweets (or rather, the articles that they link to) but later in the day during downtime.  Pocket saves them to an online cloud list that can be picked up on multiple devices, so it’s easy to go from phone to desktop, to a host of other devices.  That’s also the nature of Twitter, that sometimes you catch things, and sometimes you don’t.  Eventually, you’ll get to know who your favourite Tweeters are, then catch up when it’s convenient.
  • Less time on social media networks can also make you more interesting.  It gets boring and more so, annoying, when people have to tweet about the multitude of mundane details in their lives.  And while Twitter is a little more user-friendly for microblogging, Facebook feeds filled with what so-and-so had for lunch will soon be blocked.  Being selective about posts can actually make one reflect more on the best part of the day, or leave a noteworthy post more visible before burying it with other things of much lesser significance.
  • Not focusing on other people’s lives and activities will allow you more time for your own.  Reading without a “ding” every few seconds can be quite delightful and allow you to absorb the material better when concentrating.

Sometimes, the world can wait.

Image Source: Textaway