A third-generation Angeleno, Kim Anenberg Cavallo says having a therapist for a mom meant she was a capable and honest communicator from a young age. She also had a penchant for doing good, she recalls. If there was a campus clean-up initiative at her elementary school, she participated. In high school, she started a buddy program for incoming freshmen, founded a student film festival and connected interested teens with Holocaust survivors.
“I have a hard time controlling my impulse to bring people together around a common cause,” Cavallo told L.A. Parent. Of course, that’s not a terrible problem to have. We talked to Cavallo about where her altruism has taken her — she is now the executive director of Unplug Collaborative, home to Global Day of Unplugging — where she focuses on digital wellness and its social impact.
Tell us about your journey — as a parent and a yogi — to realizing your own need to unplug.
My 20s were spent exploring wellness, and traveling to Pune, India to study yoga. I also spent a brief time as an apprentice to my long-time Iyengar yoga teacher. Later, while raising my two sons, I found myself again in a community-building position. I took volunteer roles on nonprofit boards, worked as an event planner and raised money for causes I cared about.
My realization that I was out of balance with technology came in 2015, when I found myself in a yoga class (the one place where I was usually able to maintain deep focus), and I was distracted by the thought of missing a text or email. I left my mat to check my phone that day. I admitted to myself soon after that my mobile device had a hold on me.
You eventually came to help others reflect on their own media use. What does that look like?
With Unplug Collaborative, I collaborate with our team around the world, helping educators and leaders rally their communities to elevate human connection over digital engagement. We do this year round, but also the first weekend of March for the Global Day Unplugging.
In your experience, how are parents unplugging with their kids? Some L.A. Parent readers will be happy to know how to unplug at home.
The idea of unplugging at home with young children can feel overwhelming. It is hard to compete with the enticing hits of dopamine calling out from social media feeds and video games. First, it is important to remember that these technologies are designed to keep us engaged – it is no accident that there are zero stopping cues built in. A great way to make Global Day of Unplugging something that kids, at any age, will want to do, is to bring in the same element of surprise that video games use. While navigating a video game, a player gets hooked on searching for what is under the rock, climbing a mountain to steal a jewel or peaking around the corner to grab their opponent. Those virtual achievements are hard to compete with, but there are surprising, fun ways to make screen-free time captivating, too. Why not build a fort in the living room, arrange a scavenger hunt around the backyard or draw chalk murals on the sidewalk? While these activities might feel “retro”, they are new to most kids under 18.
When people take breaks from technology, they report feeling less alone. While tech allows us to connect 24/7, it is also known to make us feel more isolated. The potential hazards of too much screen time has prompted the U.S. Surgeon General to recommend keeping children younger than 14 off social media entirely.
On the Unplug Collaborative website, parents and caretakers can find fun and meaningful ways to improve their family’s digital wellbeing. They can search through 200+ ideas and filter by the age and space where they plan to unplug. If a family wants to venture outside of their house around Global Day of Unplugging, they can search for local events and programs on the unplugged world map.
Unplugged Collaborative offers resources for larger groups, too. Tell us about a local school event (or two) — who was inspired to organize the event, what they did, how it went.
Many schools use Global Day of Unplugging as a way to engage their student and parent community in conversations and activities that promote digital wellbeing. Over the years, some LA schools have celebrated Global Day of Unplugging: student leaders of the extracurricular clubs at Milken Community Schools have planned tech-free activities, Wonderland Elementary in Laurel Canyon does a great job bringing families out for an annual, school-wide Global Day of Unplugging event on the first Saturday of the March, and that festival has included group yoga, woodworking, rock painting and other fun things that make kids forget about their screens.
Some of these events are simply for the participants’ benefit of unplugging, while others are also fundraisers. Can you share how an Unplug-a-Thon works differently?
One of Unplug Collaborative’s initiatives is Unplug for a Cause, which focuses on inspiring people to use their time away from screens to support movements and nonprofit organizations. An Unplug-A-Thon is a fundraiser, like a Jog-A-Thon or Read-A-Thon. Participants keep track of their time unplugged and ask friends/family to sponsor their efforts with a donation to the identified cause. Another kind of Unplug-A-Thon featured on the Unplug Collaborative website is one that anyone, anywhere can participate in. Participants download and fill in this Unplugged Timesheet, and every 30 minutes they spend offline will turn into 3 pairs of clean, warm socks donated to people living in a homeless shelter, through our partnership with the NY based nonprofit Knock Knock Give a Sock. Really, an Unplug-A-Thon is a fun way to introduce the concepts of time management, philanthropy and healthy tech habits.
Of all the unplugging you bear witness to, what’s one of the most inspiring moments you’ve seen or stories you’ve heard?
One of my favorite Unplugged activities we organize with people of all ages is decorating a “Smartphone Nap-Sack”. It’s is a simple, drawstring, muslin bag where your phone can take a rest while you’re taking a tech break. Watching people, especially young ones, thoughtfully decorate the Nap-Sacks is fun, but what is most rewarding is talking to them while they fill in the “gift card” that can be inserted into the Nap-Sack. This gift card is addressed to anyone you think needs to spend less time online (you can name yourself), and the card also has a space for brainstorming ideas of what to do together while unplugged. The conversations that I have had with kids while they fill in the gift cards are super powerful. One 8-year old boy told me that he wanted to give the gift card and Nap-Sack to his older brother who he misses playing outside with because “now he is always playing video games.” Or, the 11-year old girl who told me she wanted to give the Smartphone Nap-Sack to her Mom, because “she’s always looking at her phone.”
Those are poignant moments to witness. What else should readers know about this movement?
According to Pew Research Center, about three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online. What are we missing when we spend so much time staring at screens?
When people make the decision to support the Global Day of Unplugging campaign and sign up to help spread awareness, we ask them an important question: What do you wish you had more time to do? The answers to that question are not as diverse as you would think. The number one answer is ‘spend more time outdoors’, second is something like ‘cherish the people around me’ and the third is ‘read more’.
Holidays like Global Day of Unplugging and Earth Day bring people together to be the change they want to see in themselves and in the world. Whether it is repairing our relationship with the planet or improving our relationship with technology, focusing collectively on a challenge means there is more opportunity for positive development. And it feels good to know we aren’t alone in it.
To learn more about Unplug Collaborative, visit the non-profit’s website.