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Unplugging the Kids

See this picture? It's my teen daughters engaging in an ancient pastime that involves playing games with small rectangular pieces of cardboard with symbols and faces on them. Otherwise known as "playing cards," this archaic form of entertainment was made obsolete by the digital age and hasn't been seen among the teen population in years, having gone the way of other old-fashioned activities like exercising and making eye contact.

Note that this strange game didn't require the use of electronics of any kind. It's as if they lifted the cards using their own fingers and hands, like magic.

So what drove my two tech-obsessed children to resort to this caveman behavior? On our last vacation, we were without cell or Internet access for hours at a time. I know, just the thought of it makes me feel faint, too.

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As part of our traditional post-holiday vacation this past January my husband booked us into a beautiful, scenic lodge just outside of Yosemite. Set among the stunning trees and mountains, the accommodations were rustic but comfortable, with stylish rooms and a great on-site restaurant. We could experience nature but not have to sleep in it or taste it. Perfect for these city girls.

What we weren't expecting was the lack of cell reception at the lodge, and only minimal Wi-Fi available in the lobby—not even strong enough to upload a picture of ourselves looking depressed. A slight panic ensued, and coping skills were brought into play. We had to explain that a helicopter rescue was out of the question.

We did discover, however, that we could get a signal at the pizza parlor in town. And even though this required an approximately 30 minute drive each way on snowy roads, we made the trek a couple of times during our stay. I can't tell you how much my girls looked forward to these trips—it was so exciting, like the faithful must feel when they are going to see the Pope. That is, if the Pope was awesome and could give you pizza and Wi-Fi at the same time.

It was so old-fashioned and quaint—we were practically ready to mill our own soap and trade a donkey for some candles.

But we couldn't stay there forever (believe me, my girls tried) so we'd turn off our phones, head back to the lodge and try and keep ourselves busy. And lo and behold, as you can see they actually enjoyed playing cards. They laughed, they high-fived, they tried to cheat. After that we worked on a puzzle, and spent hours back in our room reading and listening to music. It was so old-fashioned and quaint—we were practically ready to mill our own soap and trade a donkey for some candles.

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Now here's where you're expecting me to say that by being unplugged we developed a new found joy in living off the grid, and that we benefited so much from it that we came home, bought several decks of cards and a stack of puzzles, and had game night every week and even made a plaque—out of an old circuit board and some Starbucks cups—that said "Keep Calm and Unplug."

But to be perfectly honest, it was kind of hell. My teens were so happy to get to our next stop of San Francisco that I think they actually knelt down and kissed the router in our hotel room. While they loved our time in Yosemite, they loved being able to stay in touch with their friends, too. And I'm not so sure that's entirely a bad thing.

Because here's the thing: As much as I hate to admit it, a plugged-in world is their reality now, and expecting them to go cold turkey would be like asking me to go without hot coffee or moisturizer—I'd be super cranky, sleepy and have really dry skin. I feel moderation is the key, and I really do think that, plugged in or not, my kids would have found their way to that pack of cards eventually. The only difference is that they'd be able to Instagram it.

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