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"Opt In to Your Life: Five Practical Steps for the Tech-Weary Family" by Erin Loechner

An Axis Course On The "Everything Smartphone" Guided Toolkit

A more analog home can still be a teen hotspot—and not the WiFi kind. 

By Erin Loechner

We’ve all heard the mind-boggling statistics about technology and social media use. The numbers don’t lie; our obsession with smartphones and social media is slowly eroding the very essence of our homes and families. We see it. We feel it. We know it.

So what do we do about it?

We start with the realization that it’s not enough to say no to devices; we have to say yes to something better on the other side. Throughout the writing of The Opt-Out Family, I tapped over 250 sources both in and out of Silicon Valley to answer a singular question: How can we as parents, and as a society, give our teens what technology can’t? The answers collectively led to hundreds of tips, tricks, tools, and resources we can employ to liberate our tech-weary families.

Ready to opt out of tech and opt in to life? Start with five practical steps: O.P.T. I.N.

Offer built-in alternatives to technology.

Our tech weariness is, in part, due to the overwhelming presence of plugs, cords, devices, and “smart” products we’ve been told are necessary to survive in our modern world. Sure, technology is the future. But is it the future we want?

Parents have an opportunity to establish a family culture that is entirely, uniquely ours! When it comes to device usage, tech tools, and screen time, we get to (and must) call the shots.

Within your four walls, begin creating a haven from a tech-heavy society by offering an abundant array of built-in alternatives to technology. From record players to Polaroid cameras, newspapers to logbooks, screen-free swaps abound for nearly every tech solution Silicon Valley has sold us as “essential.” After all, what’s a locked diary if not the original Finsta?

Start here:

Protect free play.

Once you’ve created an environment budding with screen-free opportunities, let the games begin! Say yes to backyard Rube Goldberg machines and skate park shenanigans—heck, let your teens host a neighborhood Slip ’N Slide party with a sundae bar for dessert.

Remember: free play—the unstructured, open-ended, state-of-flow type—takes time. Can you commit to two Sundays a month when nothing is scheduled, nothing is planned, and white space awaits? Can you choose an evening each week devoted to play, exploration, and creativity? Is Saturday morning a good time for tree climbing in the woods? Can you decline a few social invitations? Can you keep extracurriculars to the 1:1:1 rule (one thing per teen per season)? Take a look at the family calendar and get creative.

As our kids grow from footed pajamas to soccer cleats, they need space and time to interact with new ideas and fresh experiences. They need room to breathe, permission to try, license to experiment. If we don’t give them that offline, they’ll—understandably—seek it online.

Start here:

Teach the benefits of being different.

If we want our teens to grow up with a worldview that values empathy, nuance, and a true appreciation for shared humanity, we must offer it to them first. But the ease of technology often lulls us into habits and rhythms that don’t support our deeply-held values.

Take note of your family’s goals and principles. In what ways might technology aid in supporting these values? In what ways might technology be a hindrance? Get quiet and get honest.

Perhaps you value open and honest communication, active listening, and expressing thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner… but it’s far easier to send a text. Maybe you value resilience, challenges, and seeing mundane or difficult tasks through to completion… but when something breaks at home, Amazon is just a click away. Maybe you value togetherness, prioritizing quality time as a family, engaging in shared activities, and creating lasting memories… but everyone’s zoned out on their screens.

Review a few shared values with your household. Chances are your principles won’t align with culture’s most popular stances. That’s okay! (Actually, that’s better than okay. In the words of my own pastor, if your family looks weird, you’re probably doing something right.) By proactively teaching your teen the benefits of being different, you’re setting them up to question the status quo and go their own way—untethered and free from an algorithm.

Start here:

  • Listen as MIT professor Cal Newport convinces his students—and the world—to quit social media.
  • As a family, read aloud age-appropriate memoirs and novels of people who moved against the grain of society: Caddie Woodlawn, A Little Princess, My Side of the Mountain, Peace Pilgrim, Walden.

Invite varied and diverse social circles.

Want to help your teens and their friends form a vibrant, engaged social circle—totally free from devices? Make your home into the low-tech hangout you wish existed.

Consider a landline (yes, they still exist!) and pass out the number to your kids’ friends and/or parents should they need to get in touch. Then collect any personal devices in a fun, unique way: a retro toy dump truck, a busker’s open guitar case, a vintage Pillsbury Doughboy cookie jar. Or keep it simple and have everyone kick off their shoes at the door and slip their phone inside one. (Bonus: no footprints, digital or otherwise!). Make it fun, and make it happen.

Start here:

Neutralize consumption with creation.

Many scientists and child psychologists posit that creative challenges and independent projects can combat depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. In a tech-saturated world that’s filled to the brim with opportunities for more consumption—apps! videos! one-click purchases!—the very antidote is often creation itself.

What can you use in your own household to spark creativity? It needn’t cost a dime. Look around your home for simple ideas to engage your teen or family in a creative project. A used ukulele. A working puzzle (with all the pieces) on the living-room coffee table. Root-beer float ingredients on the kitchen counter. An old digital camera. A broken toaster and a screwdriver. Sticks and strings. Binoculars and a backyard field guide. An old sweater and a pair of scissors. A deck of cards, shuffled and dealt for a rousing game of euchre.

The possibilities are truly endless.

Start here:

Erin Loechner is a former social media influencer who walked away from a million fans to live a low-tech lifestyle—and is now teaching others how to do the same. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post, as well as on the Today Show. When she’s not scrawling on her trusty steno pad, Erin, her husband, and their three kids spend their days chasing alpenglow, reading Kipling, and biking to town for more tortillas. For even more practical steps for your tech-weary family, check out Erin’s book, The Opt-Out Family, available wherever books are sold.