This is what "Unplugged Parenting" really looks like.

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UNPLUGGED. It’s A Thing.

Unplugged weddings, unplugged weekends, unplugged dinners.

Being surgically attached to your phone at all times has become so normal that we have a name for the times you put it down. Unplugged.

Unplugging is unthinkable for many of us. For the Young People, they are unclear on the purpose of their fingers without anything to swipe.

But Unplugging is particularly difficult for parents.

We are BUSY. Our phones tether us to all the things that need to be done. At any particular moment that ping you can hear could be a text from the kids’ school telling us Bonnie has nits, a reminder to pick up a present for Nan’s birthday, a very important work meeting or, you know, that Google Alert we put on Chris Pratt. All VERY IMPORTANT stuff.

Our phones have changed everything. When we are with our kids we are either using them to capture every little thing they’re doing, or we’re scrolling through Instagram to distract us from every little thing they’re doing.

Sometimes, we’re using them to distract the kids themselves from the things they’re doing.

Two weeks ago I took my son for an allergy test. He had to have 30+ fine needles very quickly pricked into his tiny little back. Without even thinking about it, I pulled out my phone and handed it to my three-year-old to make him happy while that happened.

“What did we do before iPhones?” I asked the nurse, brightly, but, let’s face it, rhetorically.

I found out, when Andrew Daddo and I spoke with Dani Rourke who lives at the tech-free Pinetrees Lodge on Lord Howe:

“We talked to people,” he snapped back instantly. “And children used to play outside.”

OUCH. It’s called Small Talk, buddy.

But anyway, maybe the rude nurse had a point, because last week, I unplugged the entire family for a week.

We went to a tiny little spot in the ocean off the coast of northern NSW called Lord Howe Island.

It has no mobile phone reception. It has very limited WIFI, and in most of the places you stay, it has no TVs.

The horror and panic of dreaming up ways to entertain my children with none of the usual digital props would give me pause about going there, if only it weren’t so extraordinarily beautiful.

this glorious mess podcast
Not being able to post pictures like this nearly kill you.

When we first arrived, taking one look around the place we were staying and asking, “WHERE’S THE TV?” It took Billy some days to realise that no matter how many times he asked me, there was no possible way he could watch his “movies” on the iPad (his “movies” are of American children unwrapping dinosaur toys on YouTube, but, you know, whatever floats your boat). Matilda was disturbed to discover my phone was now pretty much useless for anything other than taking and looking at photos of herself, over and over.

But soon enough, they stopped asking and they stopped poking the impotent screens. They started doing stuff.

Matilda got very serious about working on her scrapbook about our visit, something I had optimistically assured her teacher we would do, but never actually believed we would. She found a little book about birds of Lord Howe and spent a lot of time chasing the hapless creatures around, trying to sketch them in her book (the many landbirds of the Pacific are now cursing their evolutionary disadvantage).

Billy got seriously into beach-combing and building sand cities. He was happy to look at books on a rainy afternoon. He seemed more interested in other kids he didn’t know.

this glorious mess podcast
Where’s the TV?

And me? Well, once I broke the habit of looking at my phone every seven minutes, I started to actually relax.

I had moments of existential crisis when I wondered if anything was real if it wasn’t constantly being posted for posterity. I almost melted down when I saw a very famous movie star (a film was being shot on the island) AND I COULDN’T TELL ANYONE.

But: I slowly began to see beautiful views without imagining them as an Instagram post. I had conversations with strangers at dinner. I heard stories from other parents every time our kids were playing. I looked a lot of people in the eye.

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Happy holiday kid…

I couldn’t help but wonder, would life be really, really different if you lived in a place where no-one was ever on their phones?

Listen to the full episode here:

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