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What a family learned after unplugging and moving to 1986

Science & Technology staff

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In 2013, a family embarked on a bold experiment: live in 1986.

It started when Blair McMillan asked his 5-year-old son, Trey, to play with him outside.

But when Trey kept playing on the iPad, McMillan’s inner flux capacitor fired up.

“That’s kind of when it hit me because I’m like, wow, when I was a kid, I lived outside,” McMillan told the Toronto Sun.

So McMillan, his two sons (the other was 2), and his girlfriend, Morgan Patey, shunned modern tech altogether. (1986 is when McMillan and Patey were born, so it seemed as good a year as any.) They dumped their iDevices, canceled their social media accounts, and cut internet access. They moved to a house built in the ’80s. The only video game console was an original Nintendo Entertainment System. All visitors had to check in their modern gadgets before entering their home. And — perhaps the most drastic change of all — McMillan and the boys grew mullets.

Patey at first thought her boyfriend was crazy. But although she wasn’t current on the latest episodes of “Big Brother,” she found herself reading books regularly. On road trips, their kids actually looked at the scenery.

“We’re just closer, there’s more talking,” Patey said before the family’s 1980s trip ended in 2014.

Now, if you want your family to spend more time together, you probably don’t have to go to the extreme of moving to another decade and avoiding modern technology altogether. In most cases, making simple changes to your routine and setting clear boundaries on your kids’ devices will help your family interact more.

Here are the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms. Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Depending on the device, you may be able to set curfew times and content filters. But these are aids — not replacements — for a parent. Every situation is different, but the key is to be involved. Phones, tablets and laptops can teach and entertain. They cannot babysit.

You don’t have to enclose your family in a self-made time machine. But you should be aware of the quantity and quality of your kids’ screen time.

Still, you may look good in a mullet …

Oooh, yeah. | Stock photo
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