Next School Break, Consider a Tech Vacation

A Tech Vacation can help your family get back on track with screens. Here’s how to do it (and how to get kids on board).

We know it's important to take breaks from our screens sometimes, and the same goes for our kids. In an ideal world, we'd just tell our kids to put their phones down, they'd immediately comply, and we'd spend the rest of the day taking a leisurely family bike ride around the neighborhood while the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't it be nice?" plays in the background.

Sadly, we know it's not so easy. So, what can we do instead?

What’s a Tech Vacation?

Tech Vacation: a pre-planned, temporary break from using certain types of technology.

A Tech Vacation is simply a pause on using certain type(s) of technology, determined in advance. The keys to a Tech Vacation are that it is:

1) intentional

2) personalized for you and/or your family. 

Before we go any further, let us be clear: if your family’s idea of a perfect holiday involves unlimited screen time for everyone, great! Keep doing you. Sometimes, everyone needs their devices to maintain a bit of sanity, and that is okay.

But maybe you’re wondering what it would be like to try something different. Maybe your family needs a break from tech - or from certain types of tech - and everyone would welcome (or, let’s be honest, at least begrudgingly attempt) changing it up. If this is you, read on for your step-by-step guide to taking a Tech Vacation. 

There’s No Way My Kids Will Agree to This

If you’re thinking: Ha! That sounds great, but there’s no chance my kids would ever agree to a Tech Vacation… we hear you. But before you write it off completely, consider this: we’ve facilitated Tech Vacations with dozens of teens, and we’ve learned that when we frame it right, their initial panic at the thought of disconnecting eventually shifts into openness to trying. 

And, even more amazing, by the end of their Tech Vacations, something clicks– before we’re done, they’re feeling empowered and energized. Without our prompting, they’re making plans to take other tech vacations in the future.  

It never hurts to try!

How to Get Your Kids to Take a Tech Vacation

A few tips for getting everyone on the same page:

Make this a collaborative exercise. There’s power in showing our kids we’re not asking them to do something we wouldn’t try ourselves. Try saying: 

I’ve been thinking about how our family uses our phones during the holidays, and I’ve been considering this thing called a Tech Vacation. It can be big or small—for me, I’m going to try doing XYZ (read on for specific ideas!). 

Then ask: What do you think about trying out your own? Is there anything you’d want to try changing about your tech habits for even just a few days? 

Ask them for advice on your Tech Vacation: Asking your kid for advice on your own Tech Vacation is a great way to signal that this is collaborative. Try:  

Do you have any suggestions for me about what I should try? How do you think I should make sure that I stick to my plan?

Time it right. Tech Vacations are an opportunity – they’re not meant to be a punishment! So, don’t bring up the idea while you’re in the throes of an argument over screen time. Try raising the idea during a moment of calm, perhaps over a discussion of things you’re looking forward to during the school break. Ask: 

What are you looking forward to doing over break? Are there any special things you’re hoping to do?

Lower the stakes. There’s a magic power in framing this as something that you’ll only do for a short period of time. To make the low stakes clear, try saying something like: 

If we don’t like whatever we try, we’ll just go back to our usual drill!  

Make it personal. Each family member’s idea of a Tech Vacation will be different, and that’s okay. The key is getting buy-in, and that means letting family members decide on their own Tech Vacation plans, or collaborating on a shared plan for everyone in the family. Try:

What kind of tech vacation would you want to take (a break from a specific app, limiting phone to a particular time of day, or something else?) Should we try to do the same challenge as a family or should we each try something different? 

Focus on questions rather than rules. A key principle in behavioral change therapies is to get the other person talking. You want them to lay out what they might want to change and, critically, why they want to change it. You can make some suggestions, especially for younger kids, but you want to default to questions rather than rules to get them talking on their own. Try: 

Is there any tech behavior you might want to try changing up over the holidays? What are some of your (non-tech) goals for the holiday break? How do you think a Tech Vacation might help with your goals? Have you ever tried a Tech Vacation before? What worked and didn’t work for you?

They’re on board. Now what? 

A winning plan is specific, actionable, and anticipates what could get in the way. Here’s a step-by-step guide. 

1. Decide on your limits.  

Have everyone in your family decide on a temporary limit to some aspect of their technology use (or agree together on a specific limit you’re all going to stick to). This can be big, like no electronic device use at all (note: this will be challenging unless your holiday plans involve, say, camping out in the woods), or small, like limiting Instagram scrolling to 30 minutes per day. 

Here are some examples of limits you might consider:

  • No social media use at all.
  • No phone use, except for calls and navigation.
  • No Instagram use from phone (from a computer is okay).
  • Limit TikTok use to 30 minutes per day.
  • Limit social media use to messaging only (no scrolling or posting).
  • No checking e-mail after 12pm.
  • No phone use while sitting on the couch.
  • No phone use except while on long car rides.
  • Video games limited to one hour per day.

2. Identify the “why”

Why does each person want to set the limit they’ve picked? What good do each of you anticipate may come from taking a Tech Vacation? Perhaps it’s being more present with family or friends, or maybe it’s making time to pursue another hobby. Whatever it is, naming the value helps reinforce our motivation to try something new. 

3. Get specific 

Drill down into the specifics of the limits you are setting. What sites/apps/technology will you use and not use? What times of day? What devices? How much? How long will your tech vacation last?

Here is an example of a Tech Vacation plan Jackie set for herself over last December break: 

  • Social Media: For at least two weeks beginning December 24, no Instagram use, and only check Twitter one time per day. Exceptions: Friends or family can show me fun/cute/entertaining social media content on their phones, I just won’t use these apps on my own phone.
  • Email: No checking email December 24 or 25, and only check twice per day the rest of the week. Exception: I can check email more on long drives. 
  • Other: No phone use in bed!  

4. Set everyone up for success.

When you’re trying something different from your usual routine, you want to make the new habit as easy as possible. How will everyone make it easier for themselves to maintain their tech vacation plan? This may involve setting up small “roadblocks” or reminders. You might delete certain apps from your phone, or charge your phone outside of your bedroom at night. Maybe you’ll change your phone background to a photo that simply says NO TWITTER in large, scary letters.

You’ll also want to plan ahead for any barriers that might make it impossible to stick to the plan. Will you or your child be getting a new electronic device as a gift? Perhaps build in some exceptions to the limits you’re setting. Do you have a major work project that will require your immediate email responses? Consider setting up notifications for when (and only when) you receive emails from any relevant colleagues. 

Here’s how Jackie set herself up for success on her last Tech Vacation: 

  • Tell family and friends about my plan 
  • Travel with a small alarm clock, so I don’t need to use my phone. My child will serve as the actual alarm (he’s very punctual), but I like to be able to check the time while still in bed (sometimes, he’s too punctual).
  • Charge my phone out of reach of bed
  • Set an email auto-reply starting December 24
  • Note: I didn’t delete Instagram from my phone because, when I automatically click the icon before remembering my tech vacation plan, I find it’s a good reminder to be more mindful when using my phone

5. Identify alternative activities.

When you’re used to popping open Twitter at any lull in conversation and your teen is in the habit of browsing TikTok during even a minute of downtime, it feels weird to not do this. 

It feels especially weird to be off our tech when the people we’re with are still using it. Suddenly, we’re staring blankly ahead, drumming our fingers and feeling funny. 

The benefit of taking Tech Vacations as a family is that you’ll be less likely to have these lulls during times when you’re together. But you may have different limits, or maybe not everyone is doing it in the same way at the same time. 

Make sure everyone in the family has a few ideas about what they’re going to do in the moments when they might usually just whip out their phones. Depending on the nature of your tech vacation, this could involve tech or not. If your teen’s plan is to stay off Twitter, maybe they text a friend in these moments instead. If their plan is to stay off their phone altogether, maybe they want to make sure they have an art project ready, or a book checked out from the library, or their skateboard on hand so they can practice a new trick instead. 

After the Tech Vacation, Celebrate The Effort

Whatever happens, celebrate the effort you put into trying your Tech Break. Almost surely, you learned something from reflecting on your habits and attempting to change things up. If nothing else, you can feel good about the fact that you’ve helped your kids become more mindful about their tech routines. Hopefully, there are some real upsides, too. 

After the Tech Vacation, talk about how it went. What worked, and what didn’t? What was easy to do, and what was surprisingly hard? Will you take another tech break in the future?

Let Us Know How It Went

Technology is here to stay, but we can help our kids learn to connect and disconnect in ways that will serve them well across their digital lives. Whether you go for a full tech detox on a camping trip in the woods or a more minor change, let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear about your wins (and challenges!). 


This post is an adapted version of a post that Jackie wrote for her email newsletter, Techno Sapiens. You can read the original and subscribe to Techno Sapiens here. Emily and her colleague Carrie James also created a Digital Habits Check-up with Common Sense Media. You can find it here.