• Shari Stein

Back to Phones ??

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

A Whole Family Digital Renovation



We are entering the cliche and often dreaded, “Back to School” season. Yet, it seems like the kids started camp last week and Visiting Day was just yesterday. Now it’s time to get the house in order, make to-do lists, coordinate fall schedules and carpools, catch up on required summer reading, and, if you’re lucky, get away with the family for a few days before school starts. Perhaps you have even cleaned and prepped the children’s bedrooms and stocked the pantry and refrigerator with their favorite foods.

One thing you might not have planned: Helping your children resist their cell phone’s siren call. Let’s be realistic. What will many teens and pre-teens do right after they walk through the door? What will they reach for first? Most likely, it will be their phones. If they are arriving home from sleep-away camp, will you have their phones charged and ready in the car at pick up?


How are you feeling about the Back to Phones moment? Consider the added bonus that camp provides. Most summer programs institute and enforce cell phone policies.Your children have spent 2, 3, or possibly 6 - 7 weeks with no cell service or, at the most, intermittent, limited time online.


If you are like me, when my children returned home from camp I wanted to capitalize on the habits they formed at camp. During their time in camp, they mastered the habit of making their beds and cleaning up their bunks before counselor inspection. Perhaps they had duties such as mess hall clean up. And, they waited for their designated camp canteen time to indulge in sugary treats. When my daughter returned home from camp, she pledged to keep up these habits. She also asked if we could incorporate other camp traditions, such as game night. She hoped to bring camp Kumbaya to our home. However, if your family is like mine, the new and exciting habits that we planned to make permanent, lasted only a few days.


Here is my proposal for this year’s homecoming, family reunion. Make plans to help your children take what started this summer and create long-lasting habits.

A Whole Family Digital Renovation


Take advantage of what these summer programs and camps started for you. From what many campers and directors have told me, most children and teens comply with camp cell phone policies. Camp is not Vegas. What happens in camp does not have to stay there! Seize the opportunity that is being handed to you as your kids step off the camp bus. Studies show that people who reduce their time online have "reported feeling initially anxious, stressed and disconnected." Campers have survived cell phone withdrawal and, more likely, thrived in their re-discovered offline summer. Start now and make the effort necessary to keep it going!


Top 5 Things to Do Before the campers arrive home:


1. Manage your mindset. Set yourself up now with intentions and strategies.

2. Practice being the digitally responsible role model your children need in their lives. Set yourself up with guidelines for your own use. Try putting your phone down more than you pick it up. Manage your social media grazing, game playing, video viewing, and texting.

3. Designate a cell phone basket and charging spot for the children’s phones. If you have a landline or intercom for emergency calls, park your phone with your children’s. Experts and statistics tell us that we benefit from phone-free bedrooms. When I speak with families that keep phones in a designated spot overnight until the children are at least 16, the children express much less FOMO-related anxiety. These kids put their phones down and away voluntarily.

4. Buy alarm clocks for all bedrooms.

5. Stock up on board and outdoor games, playing cards, crafts, books, fitness clothing or apparatus. I recently walked into both Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target and saw huge displays of new games and the classics- Scrabble, Monopoly, etc.


Top 5 Things to Do on Arrival Day:

After the hugs, kisses, snacks, meals, pet reunions….


1. Start the conversation. Ask your children about cell phone use at camp: What did they miss the most? The least? Did they experience FOMO?

2. Create Family Digital Guidelines. For example, Device-free dinner, posting on Social Media after you are home from vacation, limit gaming and videos.

3. Create technology-free zones in your house, starting with the dinner table.

4. Consider starting a Tech Shabbat. Have the whole family go offline for 24 hours once per week. If you are going to have a family digital detox or fast, let friends and family know. Tell them in advance how and when to reach you for emergencies.

5. Recruit your friends and extended family to also have a Family Digital Renovation. This kind of peer pressure is desirable!


The prime time for this digital renovation is days away. Use this opportunity to help your children (and yourself). It might not be easy or perfect. Now is the time to DIVE IN!