Spring Break Sanctuary: Away From Digital Dramas, Peer Reality Shows

ajkb catalinaMar. 25, 2016 Just back from a ‘spring break’ social media hiatus reprising our unplugged trip to Catalina Island, albeit only day tripping vs a leisurely week away, as we tried to ‘recreate’ and rediscover the digital detox and slow pace of the beach bungalow backstory.

In ‘that was then this is now’ mode, it was interesting to see how my now collegiate daughter longed for things to ‘stay the same’ including the unplugged ‘no service’ halt to Instagram checking and Snapchat story catch ups, which seemed to mark an extra layer of exhaustion from finals.

Remarkably, other than the new zipline, we were pleased to find that not much else has changed on Catalina, it’s still a pristine, tranquil, human-powered vehicle respite (unless you count the golf carts lacing the island, which we rented from one of the guys she’d met there as a teen, now working in hospitality and tourism!) Small world. Small sanctuary to savor forevermore…Now she says things like, “If I have a family, I’d love to bring my kids here for the entire summer to get into nature and reconnect…without media buzzing every second.”

Hmn…could it be that parents are more device-dependent than the youth these days? Or that today’s ‘digital generation’ are increasingly aware of the critical need for media balance down the line? Gives me positive hope that the information age is being mitigated and ‘mediated’ to counter-act some of the ‘always on’ cultural chaos. At least here it seems just maybe….

“The Kids Are All Right…”

Original post-April 2010 (high school-throwback!) We’re back from Catalina…(sniffle, sob, cue Dinah Washington singing, “What a difference a day makes…Twenty-four little hours…Brought the sun and the flowers… Where there used to be rain…”)

Alas, the school social scene has ferociously invaded the last 24 hours turning calm into chaos, plummeting moods from giddy tip-toe through the tulips carefree whimsy to stomp on the freakin’ flowers, full-blown angst.

In classic recombinant media art, I’m hearing ‘we’re baaaack’ coupled with the screech of the Psycho fx, a visual of The Ring’s off the hook receiver swaying in the abandoned phone booth, and the anxious warning bark of intrusion by watchful dogs. (Oh, wait, those are my barking dogs; there’s a squirrel out the window, scratch that…)

After taking a media “breather” as Anne Collier of ConnectSafely calls it in this great post about managing digital drama/media overload, I find the pendulum swing has gone from heaven to hades with uncanny speed, and this disturbs me beyond just ‘harshing our collective mellow’ as my Scottish pal Julie would say.

Is it REALLY that tough to segue back to a teen’s “totally wired” world from being “unplugged” for a week without some sort of ‘re-entry’ phase and prep like a shuttle landing? In my house, apparently so…

Tempting though it may be to shoot media as the messenger, I find that to be far too simplistic, easily dismissible, and sloppy thinking…much like most blame games scraping superficial solutions from the surface without diving into the root causes running deeper.

Besides, if it were THAT easy to keep two deliriously happy Free-Range Kids from nosediving back into hyper-drama, I’d go off the grid entirely. Solar cabin. Propane. The works. (and yes, that’s my daughter on the right)

Whether it’s who said what to whom in one’s absence or who went where with another, the tales and spin would still be there post spring-break whether media devices existed or not…

…The difference is the ‘always on’ access to the churn and the wildwest frontier of learning digital citizenship.

It seems like the last 24 hours has lobbed a social sidewinder of developmental angst between school circles intersecting with new vacation friends merged onto mobile/web platforms like an overlapping Venn diagram of colorful personas…

Toting school pals in the pocket 24/7 like a 21st century peer reality show is tiring; so it’s OUR job as parents to step in and ‘unplug’ with a wallop of perspective regularly to diffuse (and sometimes defuse!) electronic bomb blasts of data to create healthier, more balanced boundaries and self-governance beyond group think and peer perpetuation.

In Anne’s NetFamilyNews article she nailed it when she said:

“Tech and media don’t create drama, people do…Tech and media are drama enhancers, extenders, and perpetuators,” and I wholeheartedly agree.

It’s why it’s so essential to develop critical thinking skills, resiliency, and coping mechanisms throughout adolescence, for though it may be familiar drama from yesteryear, it’s now delivered faster, rapid-fire and heightened with a tinge of urgency that adds a pop of wasn’t there before.

Used to be you could leave the drama at school or home (depending on which one was the main source) and get a little breathing room and calm for a reality check and a way to self-guide lives back into balance…

…Now, much of it comes WITH you.

The portability of peers in the pocket has  shifted some parenting practices into a ‘break the wolf pack’ dynamic which can easily turn into a snarling den of cubs finding new workarounds to go underground if mutual respect isn’t in play, so be forewarned ye heavy-handed banishment sorts. (found this out the hard way seeing ‘no TV’ turn to forbidden fruit in the early years)

Those that get over-heated with reaction can end up inadvertently giving peers/media/mobile FAR more power than warranted, with some serious blowback on the familial relationship front too. That said, taking nature and nurture once step further, many say it begs the question:

Why not just shut it off altogether?

Can you shut off the ocean?

Like media, the ocean is everywhere…comprising 71% of our planet.

I suppose you could avoid it, never put your toe in and seal yourself off from an entire chunk of aquatic wonder…but I prefer the notion of teaching people how to swim.

Taking this media analogy further…

Can you just go to the pool where you stand up in the shallow end?

Again, the lifeguard in me reminds that kids can drown fast with the illusion of safety in play, and moreover are EXTREMELY ill-prepared if some joker tosses them in the deep end thinking they MUST be able to swim if they’re already in the pool.

I’ll spare you more changing tides/new media-scape scenarios, as I’m sure you’re getting my drift…

We cannot, must not, turn a blind eye to the role of all forms of media influence with fear-based “block and tackle” parenting styles that tamp down the very tools, technology and social skills kids need to forge forward as competent adults.

That said, the bumpy landing back at the homefront bugs me to no end, going from smiles to sadness in a snap, since the touchpoints that triggered such a bummer of a return were self-evident…

Granted, we were ALL reticent about leaving our idyllic island respite (so much so that we missed the first ferry and barely made the plane)…But the more I considered it, the more I recognized that new media really has altered travel landscapes forevermore. Not just the convenience of couchsurfing, trip tips and connecting globally, but the whole concept of ‘spring flings’ and ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ seems like it would be pretty much out the window too. Yes or no?

Not saying this has anything to do with OUR vacation, but I’m just thinking out loud about the opportunity to view the digital age as “both a blessing and a curse” when worlds collide…Social media’s opt-in, opt-out connectivity enables kids to buffer their worlds to a certain degree, but there are still no clear lines of demarcation as privacy and transparency entwine in some messy tangled webs that work at odds with one another…

It’s getting harder to keep ‘separate worlds separate’ sans wounded feelings; and truth often gets muddied by whatever’s flinging around the virtual stage of embellishment. Example?

Imagine the freedom and sense of agency being able to explore fresh identities and emerging personalities untethered by school-saddled ‘baggage’ of pigeon-holing into core cliques and tribes…

In our case, you could almost HEAR an audible exhale coming out of these girls, with an uplifting joyfulness and refreshing innocence that was almost palpable.

Everything about them shifted into a body language reflecting ‘guard down/armor off,’ and in fact, our rental cottage was even on a street named Descanso which is Spanish for break, tranquility, rest, relaxation. (shown above)

Why can’t teens reveal this same playfulness and carefree spirit day to day at their local high school you ask? Well, as Facebook might phrase, “It’s complicated.”

I’ve written a lot about this concept of environmental influences on kids, where it helps to gain perspective in a shake up/wake up call to “Get Out of Your Own Life” and dredge the depths of who you are and who people think you are…Heady stuff.

It’s healthy to tip yourself out of your comfort zone and explore boundaries, self-identity and the ‘testing, 1-2-3’ phase of teen trial and error…

What feels right? How is it different here? Why does this appeal to me?

As Anne Collier eloquently stated in this piece about helping kids balance activities online and off and dealing with digital drama overload:

“Go deeper…with constant exposure to friends’ thinking, do kids have enough chance for the reflection and independent thought that help them figure out who they are in relation to it all?”

In Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self,” MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle writes,

“The anxiety that teens report when they are without their cellphones … may not speak so much to missing the easy sociability with others but of missing the SELF that is constituted in these relationships.”

It’s a telling sign that being unplugged from school drama actually opened doors of communication; they didn’t seem to miss that peer contact AT ALL. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say kids NEED this separation from peer-imposed social norms.

Many teens are smack dab in the developmental mishmash of fluidity, exposure and influence, so it’s all the more important teens have mindfulness, presence, and quiet spaces to explore their own quest for ‘project happiness’ otherwise we’ll be struggling with “media defining kids before they can define themselves.” (ahem, my mantra for industry accountability)

At left, the girls are eating a chocolate bunny from their baskets, and got a kick out of hunting for 30 marshmallow ‘Peeps’ in various states of bizarre contortion squished into weird hiding places throughout the cottage…

Now tell me, would they ever admit their childlike zeal hunting for silly goodies to their group of high school peers? I’m guessing…not.

I think the sheer simplicity of the ‘one square mile’ and ‘11pm town curfew’ turned this tourist haven into a teen trekking paradise, where kids made fast friends, and newcomers popped on and off the island by the boatload, each adding fresh adventures and personalities to the mix. They were in heaven.

Notably, there was also a friendly ‘retro’ vibe of a small town community looking out for everybody else (cue the Cheers theme song; there’s that media recombinant art form again)

In fact, when the girls got locked out of the cottage and couldn’t fit through the window, they said aloud, ‘what we need is a small kid’ and next thing you know the guy in the golf cart on the street said, “ok, I’ll go get you some,” as if he were picking out produce at a farmer’s market…

Sure enough, he returned with a passel of kids from the neighborhood delighting in the ‘risky business’ of stuffing themselves through a cottage window with no consequences, and adult sanctioning no less! Fun times…sitcom style.

Similarly, even the historic casino turned theater resplendent with art deco murals was a throwback to a bygone era of civility and grandeur…

First run films at reasonable rates, popcorn for a coupla bucks instead of the cost of the ticket itself, and a courteous audience of all ages that did not leave ONE piece of trash near their seats (popcorn, soda, wrapper, nada) upon exit…

It was magical, as if all the visitors took the cues from the locals that ‘this is just how it’s done here’…Makes me wonder what high school environs would be like if that kind of positive social norming of ‘humanity ascending’ took hold…

Now take this idyllic spring break sanctuary and merge it with teen social networking dynamics and mobile mashups in “make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold” style.

Yeah. You get the picture. Now you’ve got quite an amalgamation of characters in one big social web, merging multiple worlds.

It’s kind of like inviting all of your quirkiest friends to the same dinner party in a massive free for all that borders on surreal. (envision divergent seatmates who might prefer to toss a salad ON rather than share a salad WITH their adjacent neighbor)

Now…add some special dressing (tagged photos, social media comments, texting traumas, or maybe even a photo with gasp, good ol’ maw in a beach towel, at left) and you’ve got the makings of a strong vinaigrette which could ‘go either way’ in terms of palate and appeal.

Somehow, this generation of kids seems to be working through this tossed salad approach to “friending” with considerable social aplomb, creating a more diverse, nuanced and contextual social fabric.

I love that kids are using social media to sort out their value systems, sift through what’s ‘real’ and what’s ‘perceived’ online and offline, and use the tools as stakeholders in their own reputation management and anti-bullying crusades…(’twas ever thus, it’s just more public, and amplified; as always, it helps to know your BFF has your back)

On the other hand, all this open access to info and digital connectivity has huge limitations when it comes to personal freedoms and privacy…

As a former ‘Navy junior’ (aka military brat) that bounced to multiple schools, states and scenarios, I was able to move seamlessly through the processes of adolescent reinvention, keeping what I liked about myself and placing the rest in the discard pile like a card game.

This freedom to be who I wanted to be FAR outweighed the trauma and drama of moving my keister across continents and leaving beloved friends behind to weather a ‘pen pal’ status to see what would stick. (It often sorted out to longevity=commonality; a short-fade to black=a likeness to outgrown clothes; wistful glances knowing deep down they don’t quite fit anymore)

Today’s kids don’t have that ‘hard stop’ of upheaval…you can always be a keystroke away, and there are amazing resource sites and tools to stay connected (gawd what I would’ve done to hear and see via webcam in long distance relationships; we used to tape ‘cassettes’ and send them back and forth to hear each other’s voices)

Makes me wonder how today’s families of ‘military personnel’ use new media…Do they keep in touch more? Or drift apart in social media too? Do they access niche resource enclaves like MyVetwork to find overseas pals? Or do they just close each chapter and open anew?

This much I know is true…The Young and the Digital (worthy blog read, btw) are mapping mobile-social opportunities with a whole new compass, building offline to online bridges that endure.

I could add a flame metaphor about hoping there’s no fresh timber to ignite to burn down those bridges from excessive life-sharing among multiple subgroups and friends of friends…but then…that means we’ve circled back to the very beginning of adolescence over time: teen drama and playing with fire…

Same as it ever was, only extraordinarily different. 😉

Next up? Risk assessment, ‘digital native’ misnomers and monikers that stick…what I learned on spring break part two.

Related Resources on Shaping Youth

Shaping Youth: Nature Rocks! Reconnecting Families

Shaping Youth Through Nature, Media Unplugged

Shaping Youth: NCLI: Get ‘Em Outside!

Shaping Youth: Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder

Shaping Youth: If Kids Could Be Dolphins: The Power of Creative Play

Shaping Youth: The Nature of Tweens: Wired Worlds & Outdoor Ed

Shaping Youth Joins Eco-Literacy Coalition: NCLI

Shaping Youth: The Great Turtle Race

Shaping Youth: Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus: Eco-Media For Kids

Exc Resources via Anne Collier of  Connect Safely/NetFamilyNews:

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