D.c. Family Launches Experiment In Tech-Free Living (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C. Family Launches Experiment In Tech-Free Living

MS. EMILY BERMAN

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." This week our theme is Letting Go. And for our next story, I need to start with a confession. My name is Emily Berman and I am generally not more than three feet away from my phone at any given time, in the shower, while I'm sleeping, while I'm running. I am almost always email, Twitter and internet accessible. And even at 10 years old, Erik Cekan understands my tech obsession.

MR. ERIK CEKAN

00:00:39
It was kind of in my routine. I'd wake up, I went on Wizard 101, I had breakfast and then I went to school and I came back. I was on the computer. I did my homework. I was on the computer.

BERMAN

00:00:51
So it sounds like it would fill up almost every minute of free time you had.

CEKAN

00:00:56
Yeah, pretty much.

BERMAN

00:00:57
But it doesn't anymore.

MS. JINDRA CEKAN

00:00:59
So we are going up the stairs. This is where I've hidden the technology.

BERMAN

00:01:05
Jindra Cekan is a single mother to Erik and his brother, Kaja. And we're in her row house on Capitol Hill.

CEKAN

00:01:11
So my children don't know about this place, so…

BERMAN

00:01:13
She crouches down and reaches into the back corner of her closet.

CEKAN

00:01:19
Oh, yeah, iPad, I have another iPad. I took out the Wii, here's the iPod.

BERMAN

00:01:28
Kaja, who's 12, tells me he knows exactly where the gadgets are, back of the closet is like the most obvious mom hiding spot in the world, but he and Erik, they're not going in there. This time, they said, their mother was dead serious.

CEKAN

00:01:45
This began when I walked in and I said, please bring in two bags of food for your lunch.

BERMAN

00:01:50
She had just made an evening run to Safeway to get sandwich ingredients.

CEKAN

00:01:54
Kaja said, I'm going to do that, sitting on his iPad. And my son Erik said, yeah, yeah, Mom, you know, in a few minutes. I can't right now. I'm playing. I said, oh, no.

BERMAN

00:02:04
This wasn't the first time a screen had taken priority over helping their mom.

CEKAN

00:02:08
I said you are bringing the groceries in. And as soon as they brought them in, I said, and you've lost all your technology until I tell you it's back. They had no idea what was going to hit them.

BERMAN

00:02:21
No iPads, no computer, no television, no Wii. These were the pillars of their young adulthood. The first week, Jindra says, they were slamming doors and storming around the house.

CEKAN

00:02:32
It was really like an addiction, you know. You could watch the addiction releasing its hold a bit.

BERMAN

00:02:39
To help her sons along in their recovery, Jindra devised a star chart to gauge when they're being helpful and kind.

CEKAN

00:02:45
I went around the house on Saturday and I cleaned the bathrooms and my brother vacuumed.

BERMAN

00:02:54
That got them two stars a piece, but it doesn't take much to get a star taken away.

CEKAN

00:02:59
They've gotten to look at how unhelpful they are because when they lose stars, like, why am I losing a star? I'm like, you just hit your brother for the sixth time.

BERMAN

00:03:08
They need 50 stars to get their technology back for one hour a day. Two months into their star counting, Erik has 33 and Kaja has 44.

MR. MARK SWEENEY

00:03:17
I proposed this intervention to a lot of different families and most of the time families avoid using this as an intervention until it's their last resort.

BERMAN

00:03:26
Mark Sweeney is their family therapist.

SWEENEY

00:03:28
The Xbox can be a great babysitter. The Internet can engage a kid and kind of make their job as a parent a little bit easier.

BERMAN

00:03:36
Less technology means less free time for parents. And kids, he says, will exploit that.

SWEENEY

00:03:42
The kids for many, many days will be in doubt whether you as a parent will be able to hold on. They will test. For those families that hold on for weeks and then months, wow, you can start to see other parts of the family improve, communication, problem solving. It's remarkable.

BERMAN

00:04:02
In the past couple of months, Kaja has been taking apart old computers in his bedroom.

KAJA CEKAN

00:04:06
I’m just trying to take it apart.

BERMAN

00:04:08
Erik sits on the floor surrounded by Legos.

CEKAN

00:04:11
I'm trying to build a bank.

BERMAN

00:04:12
And when he's not there you can also find him running around outside.

CEKAN

00:04:15
Now I've kind of realized that there's a lot of other fun things to do. Going to the park kind of now feels nicer than staying inside and sitting in front of the computer for an hour.

CEKAN

00:04:26
We'll play cards, we'll play Clue.

BERMAN

00:04:29
Jindra is an active Buddhist and says letting go of technology is a way to practice mindfulness in their home.

CEKAN

00:04:37
They are more respectful more often. They are kinder more often. They are more helpful more often. Parents just shouldn't be afraid to do this. Children will be mad at you, but ultimately it's teaching them so much about being here.

BERMAN

00:04:55
Kaja, on the other hand, finds this new lifestyle…

CEKAN

00:04:59
A little bit more boring.

BERMAN

00:04:59
And with just a few more stars to earn, he's counting down the minutes until he and his iPad are reunited for one blissful hour a day.
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