Every once in a while, every family needs to detox.
Collect all the electronics—the Kindles and iPads and iPods and Nintendo DSs and smart phones—and lock them away. Pull the plug on the television and the PlayStation and the Xbox, too. Don’t do it secretively. Announce it. Tell the young ones you’re going a week or a month or whatever without Minecraft and Netflix and Halo.
Beware, though. Because when you do, something will happen….
- First, they’ll begin to spasm and screech, as if possessed by a demon. What do I mean by that? Well, picture a demon possession. Got it? That’s what it will look like. There will be a significant amount of overlap with how an addict responds when you take away their crack. That’s not coincidence. They’re addicted and you’re taking away their crack.
- They will hate you.
- You’ll tell them they’re kids and that’s how they’re supposed to react. It’s your job to do what is healthy for them, and it’s their job to hate you for it. For about thirty years. Or until they have kids of their own. Whichever comes first.
- That will make them angrier.
- They’ll negotiate. And they’ll be cunning. You’ll discover they understand more about how you and the family work than you ever fathomed. They’ll probe at every crack and fault line. They’ll turn passive-aggression into an art form.
- When you fail to cave in, they’ll up the ante. They’ll get angrier. Make threats. Scream louder. Doors will slam. Demon possession may or may not reoccur.
- They’ll try to guess the passcode on your mobile phone. It may not have games on it, but at this point, they’ll settle for anything that can bathe their little faces in the the cold blue wash of LED light. They’ll try and fail until it locks you out for an hour. Maybe even forever. You’ll have to restore it to factory settings. And if you still don’t cave…
- They will still hate you.
- Their social life will suffer. They will not be able to communicate with friends via iMessage, text message, SnapChat, or Xbox One. They will plead with you, telling you they are becoming social pariahs. They probably are. They’ll tell you their friends think your evil. They probably do. And when you still don’t cave, they will suddenly resort to the antiquated ritual of sitting at the family computer. At a desk. And Facebooking. You will limit that to thirty minutes a day, too.
- So they will hate you even more.
- Then, some time later—the exact timing will vary depending upon the extent of their addiction, the stubbornness of their personality, and the amount of hormones coursing through their blood—you will start to notice a subtle shift in energy. They will still hate you—at least a little—but they will be somehow more present. And they will also begin doing other things. They’ll find two old Matchbox cars in a drawer and they’ll start a chase scene in the kitchen, complete with little-kid-explosion-noises. They’ll pull an old dollhouse out of the closet and you’ll hear imaginary banter coming from their bedroom. Imaginations will reawaken. Creativity will be resurrected. Someone might even go outside. Touch a basketball. Climb onto a bike. Caution: unused muscles may get unusually sore. Thumb muscles will begin to shrink back to normal size.
- They’ll slowly stop hating you. They won’t like you. But they will stop fantasizing about your sudden disappearance.
- Whereas before, these young minds were being filled up from the outside and absorbing all sorts of electronic stimulation, they will now fill up from the inside and begin overflowing with the natural stimulation of their own interior world. They may start to talk. A lot. You’ll begin to see parts of them you haven’t seen in a long while. Maybe ever. They will be brilliant. Like the face of a diamond.
- You will have to put down your phone to listen. (Be careful what you ask for.)
- Over time, their brains will begin to settle down, into their natural rhythm. They will no longer slip into a stupor when faced with anything that doesn’t light up, flash, or explode. They will begin to find homework less excruciating, boredom less torturous, and silence and solitude less terrifying.
- They’ll finally give in and start communicating with their friends face-to-face again. They’ll play board games. Go out to McDonald’s and look at each other instead of their phones. They’ll lay out under the stars together and wonder. They’ll discover, when you use more than 140 characters, you see depths in another you never knew existed.
- They may hug you. Because tangible human contact is beginning to feel meaningful again.
- Eventually, you may want to put down your phone more often, as well, because as you see the spark being fanned to life in them, you will wonder if, maybe, just maybe, you have a spark like that still alight somewhere in you, too.
- They’ll graduate high school, go off to college, and actually not flunk out. They’ll look their professors in the eye. They’ll understand the importance of etiquette and actually use it. They’ll discover a passion inside of them that does not begin with “videogame” and end with “designer.” They’ll give their passion to the world.
- And then, one day, many years from now, they’ll come home and it’ll be the day you told them about so long ago. The day they’re finally grateful you took all the mind-numbing devices away. Or maybe they won’t be grateful. But either way, you’ll be grateful you did it. Because you’ll know, regardless of how it turned out, you did the hard thing so they could have the best shot at the best of things: the opportunity to be fully human and to launch themselves headlong into this thing we call being alive.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.