Sabrina is a 17-year-old senior from Bellevue, WA. She loves to figure skate, eat vast quantities of frozen yogurt, and jump in lakes in the middle of the night! Her favorite subject is English, because she loves to write and read anything she can get her hands on.
It’s a familiar scenario: you’re at the beach with some friends, soaking up the summer sun and basking in the ocean spray, when suddenly someone whips out their camera and decides it’s picture time. Or maybe you’re on vacation with your family, taking in the dazzling view at the Grand Canyon or Mount Rainier, and your phone buzzes; immediately, you whip it out to see who’s texting you, forgetting all about the beautiful landscape spread out before you.
If so, then you’re just one of the millions of teenagers who spend every day doing—well, whatever it is they aren’t doing at the moment. For some reason, our generation feels the need to constantly engage electronically with the outside world, and we forget to enjoy each moment as it actually happens. Parents, you’re probably all too familiar with this: if you’ve ever yelled at your teen to “take out those darn headphones!” or “leave the cell phone behind,” you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that teens need to slow down and enjoy life’s pleasures without constant distraction.
Living through electronics isn’t truly living, and you can’t enjoy any experience unless you engage in it with all your senses—something you can’t accomplish by constantly distracting yourself with various other tasks. So, without further ado, here it is: five ways to live in the present:
1. One picture per place.
This rule is crucial to enjoyment on any family vacation or social excursion! Parents and teens alike have a tendency to take dozens of pictures in the exact same spot, with only minute modifications in facial expression and body positioning to show for it. What’s the point? There isn’t one; unless you’re an aspiring photographer, take one picture in one spot, and then move on. Seriously. You’ll enjoy where you are far more, and when you think back to the occasion, you’ll actually remember the amazing experiences you had—instead of feeling grumpy at being incapable of taking “the perfect picture.”
2. Wait to Tweet/Post a status
If you’re like most teens, you probably have a Facebook or Twitter account—or both. And you probably like to tell your friends all about the cool activities you’re doing, be it via a status, tweet, or personal message. That’s completely natural, but there’s no reason to notify everyone about what you’re doing as it happens. The world will wait for you. I promise.
3. Turn it on silent
All right, I know it’s asking a lot to tell you to leave your phone at home or even in the car. So, don’t; you never know when an emergency will strike and you’ll need it, anyways. But do silence your ringtone—and yes, that includes vibrate. That way, you can still check your phone for missed messages and whatnot, but you can do it on your own time, and not feel compelled to pull out that phone the second it rings. Wait for a break in whatever activity you’re engaged in at the moment, and utilize that time to use your phone, if you must; this way, your phone doesn’t detract from your experience.
4. Take out the headphones
Music is wonderful, but there is a time and a place for enjoying it, and the middle of a family excursion or evening with friends isn’t it. Nobody appreciates having to repeat something twice because you were more concerned with your newest playlist than what they have to say. You’ll only aggravate whoever you’re with by insisting on listening to your iPod 24/7. Listen to it in the car, listen to in your room, listen to it while doing your homework— just abstain from listening to it while doing anything you want to remember, especially with other people. It’s awfully difficult to appreciate the splendor of the Grand Canyon when Coldplay is blasting in your ears.
5. Slow down
Although this is the least concrete method on the list, it’s perhaps the most important. You can’t really enjoy yourself, electronic distractions aside, without making an effort to do just that. Teens have a lot on their plates; school, friends, college applications, and more are constantly running through our heads like a song stuck on repeat. But if you can banish those extraneous thoughts and worries from your mind—just for a little bit—and focus on the moment you’re in, instead, you’ll find yourself having a much better time, whether you’re perusing downtown NYC or surfing off the coast of Hawaii.
And for all you parents out there reading this, here’s something you should know about us teens: if you tell your teen to leave his phone behind or turn off his iPod, I can assure you that he’ll double his text-messaging rate and crank up the volume on that iPod, just to spite you. So don’t directly tell your teen to abstain from technological distractions; instead, model that behavior yourself. The advice in this article pertains to parents as well as teens, and if teens see their parents laughing and enjoying themselves without using phones, iPods and cameras, they might just think to try that for themselves.
Each moment is unique and memorable in its own way, and all of us, teens and parents alike, should enjoy each day to the fullest extent possible. After all, we only live once!
Photo: Jeffrey Pott from Flickr
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