MINNEOTA - Technology, despite its countless advantages in today's world, can have a negative effect on teenagers and their families, which is a concept that Minneota freshmen Rachel Knutson and Allison Bot explored during their FCCLA project recently.
"We noticed that a lot of kids were hung up on their phones and how it affected their grades, with spelling, writing and grammar," Knutson said. "They're also not as close to their families as much. So we decided to just have a weekend where they could spend time with their family while not using technology as much.
Knutson and Bot encouraged fellow students to take part in the technology-free weekend with them. That meant giving up their phones, iPods, iPads and other devices as well as turning off the television and staying off the computer.
"Our slogan was 'unplug and plug in to life,'" Bot said. "We wanted people to know that they can put their devices away and live life and have fun without them. And, I think the families that participated did get that message."
About 50 people took the "unplug" challenge, the girls said, noting that quite a few others were unable to give up technology for the allotted time, which was from 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 8, to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 10.
"There were quite a few who couldn't give it up," Bot said. "I think they were afraid they'd miss something. They'd come up with some excuse, like saying they had to talk to their parents."
The fact that so many kids were unable to refrain from engaging with technology reinforced the girls' suspicions.
FCCLA adviser LeaAnne Bot said she thought the girls, one of whom is her daughter, definitely highlighted the different ways that people use technology, sometimes in excess, and how that use can get in the way of relationships and other parts of one's life.
"They had a really great concept," LeaAnne Bot said. "They had some really good insight, especially for young kids. They realized that technology can be used in excess and discovered some negative results."
The girls' research revealed that a technology-rich environment can actually hinder a person academically, socially and emotionally. The project was even an eye-opener for each of them.
"I learned that spending time with your family can actually be fun," Allison Bot said. "And I used to have this fear of calling people. Now, I can just call people, and it's the same as texting people."
To promote student participate, Knutson and Bot wore "Unplug" T-shirts and gave out registration packets to those who signed up.
"We included a deck of cards for families to use and examples of card games," Knutson said. "We also had an 'unplug to pledge' sheet, where they'd write 'I plug in to play the piano' or whatever to remind them to do other activities."
The packets also included 101 screen-free activities, an activity log for people to keep track of what they did in the 48-hour time period and a survey form.
"If they filled out the survey, their name got entered into the drawing for prizes," Knutson said.
The top prize, Bot said, was an overnight stay at Prairie's Edge Casino Resort in addition to buffet tickets.
"The girls tried to think of all the different ways they could apply technology," LeaAnne Bot said. "They did the online survey with their classmates using Survey Monkey. It's pretty cool. They create it and send it to a location, and anyone who logs on can link to it, then the site analyzes the information."
Allison Bot said the survey showed a large number of students felt technology got in the way of learning sometimes.
LeaAnne Bot said that social media can be a quick way to spread communication as well.
"The girls created a Facebook page and invited everybody to their event," she said. "Then they tried to show how social media can be a factor and get messages out. It can be a good thing."
The girls also put together a creative presentation.
"We made a PowerPoint and put it in this new program called Prezzi," Allison Bot said. "There's an oral speech that goes along with it. We also made a video with slides. We embedded an interview we did with a teacher (Chris Shuckhart). We asked him if he thought technology affected our papers."
As a teacher, LeaAnne Bot said she sees some negative effects that technology can have on students, especially with research.
"The students are trained that they don't have to retain anything," she said. "They know they can Google it. Having information easily assessable can have long-term effects."
LeaAnne Bot admitted that a lot of things she does when she gets home involves screen time, which is now something she's vowed to minimize.
"From a parent's perspective, this brings some awareness to how much time we're not connecting with our kids," she said. "You have to be careful if you allow technology to be a babysitter, while you're trying to get a meal going to something. It's a fine line. I hope parents start paying attention to their kids. They have to unplug and have the rest of the family unplug to be together."
Allison Bot and Knutson will share their project findings with judges one more time, joining approximately 30 other Minneota students as they advance to the state FCCLA competition today through Saturday in Bloomington.
The duo competes Friday morning, with a third straight trip to nationals on the line. Those who advance to nationals this year will travel to Nashville in July.