Wilton editorial: Pull the plug

On your electronic devices, that is.

Next Saturday, March 7, is the National Day of Unplugging. It’s a day worth giving some serious thought to. It is sponsored by Reboot, an arts and culture nonprofit “that reimagines and reinforces Jewish thought and traditions.”

But this is not a religious activity. It is simply an effort to hearken back to the day when the Sabbath really was a day of rest and reflection. Those of us old enough remember when the Sabbath was a day that families visited one another, when there was a special dinner and people caught up with one another. Mom wasn’t running around doing the food shopping and other errands and Dad wasn’t ferrying kids to one activity or another. It was a day to decompress from the week and get ready for the next.

Some of us spend far more time with our noses in our devices than we do looking at one another. You might be talking with someone and their phone rings and they immediately turn their attention to it. You do it, too.

The negative effects of cellphone use can be very subtle, but they exist nonetheless. One study showed that mothers who reported greater habitual use of mobile devices had young children who were more negative and less resilient.

One-third of 6,000 eight- to 13-year-olds who participated in an international study reported feeling “unimportant” when their parents used a cellphone during meals, conversations or other family times. Children should not have to compete with an electronic device for their parents’ attention.

In yet another study, when the researcher talked with 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18, they said they felt “sad, mad, angry and lonely” when their parents were on their devices. Some reported destroying or hiding their parents’ cell phones.

What about the other side of the coin? The effect devices have directly on children?

According to a 2010 report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, kids spent more than 7 1/2 hours a day looking at some sort of screen. That was 10 years ago and it’s doubtful anything has improved. It may even be longer as schools encourage children to use electronic devices for educational purposes.

It’s a big concern, so much so the National Institutes of Health has undertaken a study to examine changes in the structure of the brains of children who use electronic devices. What they’ve found so far seems to indicate children who spent more than two hours per day on screens scored lower on language and thinking tests than those who did not.

Those who spent more than seven hours per day on electronic devices showed premature thinning of the cortex, but it was not clear if that was caused by the screen time or how detrimental that might be.

We are not going to get rid of our smartphones, tablets, laptops or other devices, nor should we relinquish the face-to-face contact that forms the foundation of our relationships from intimate conversations to telling a good joke.

Encouraging us to take a timeout from whatever digital images we are looking at is Wilton Library, which is inviting folks to stop in on March 7 and play a board game, put together a puzzle, spend some time coloring, or participating in other tech-free activities.

Talk about tech-free, Ambler Farm is having its Maple Syrup Open House that day from 1 to 2 p.m. Visitors may learn how trees are tapped, sap is collected, and then boiled down into syrup. Best of all, you get to taste Ambler Farm’s own maple syrup on some vanilla ice cream.

There’s always something going on in town for families to participate in and for individuals to meet their real — not virtual — friends and neighbors. Check them out at the Wilton Bulletin Board.

Whatever you do, please remember this. When you are with another person — your spouse, your child, your parent, your friend, anyone — be with them.