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Family disconnects

I have an eclectic list of parenting specialists. They’re really good at a job that’s incredibly and increasingly difficult. They care about their kids. They resolve daily conflicts, run to-do lists like efficiency experts, all while maintaining some sanity.

Some are family members, or parents of best friends. More recently, I’ve found some parenting models among my neighbors.

Case in point: Kristen Rock. We’re community neighbors. We have friends in common. We see each other at parties. Our families are nearly identical in terms of wedding dates, number of children and ages.

We’re also Facebook friends of course.

When it comes to parenting, Kristen is my new saint.

OK, even Kristen would consider the word saint an over-exaggeration, but she certainly ranks up there with parents who’ve tried a radical parenting strategy and lived to tell about it.

Her recent strategy: Cutting the family’s internet and cable service, seemingly overnight and without warning.

First, Kristen will tell you it’s not as easy to just cancel these services. Beyond the hourlong phone call with Spectrum customer service, there was concern about how her kids would react.

After all, this was not meant to be some Draconian move to punish her kids for playing Fortnite too much, or watching inappropriate programs on YouTube.

It was about gaining control. It was about reconnecting as a family, even if it meant disconnecting from some technology (we’ll get back to the “some” part in a moment).

“Screen time was in conflict with our idealistic family priorities,” Kristen said. “For our family, we want our kids to be reading every day. We want them practicing, to be playing outside.

“The things we needed as a family were in total conflict because of screens.”

Kristen shared with me the pros and cons with cutting the cords — a list she made with husband Jason the night before.

It’s also important to note that they kept “some” access. Mom and Dad kept smartphone data plans, and activated hot spots when necessary.

One big pro: cost savings.

“We went 80 days without (cable and Internet). I looked at our bill. It’s $250-a-month. That’s $3,000 a year.”

She estimated they cut screen time by 50 percent. Basic channels were a mainstay for family viewing, with the occasional DVD from a library for movie nights.

“When the kids came home from school, it was ‘Family Feud’ or ‘Ellen.'” When commercials were added to the mix, “the pace was kind of relaxing,” she added.

Another pro: boredom. “Without (technology), the kids got a little bit bored. That was good. I want my kids to be bored sometimes because it forces them to look for other things to do.”

The kids started reading for pleasure, but it was also good for the adults, too. “I couldn’t watch the news at 10:30 at night, which was really refreshing.”

Some cons: limited access to sports content, no Google Home access, added stress on smartphones and difficulty with planning travel.

“We also had to rethink our family movie night,” she said. “We had to get a little creative.”

Would they do it again?

Kristen said the pros definitely outweighed the cons. In fact, the Rocks are already thinking ahead to the next 80 days they’ll take a break from Internet and cable.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adam earn.com.

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