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Our View: Putting technology on the back burner

— In a technology-driven world, it's easy for us to get wrapped up in the gadgets and gizmos that keep us connected. But a local couple is reminding Steamboat Springs parents that it's worthwhile to take a step back, and we think the community should tune in to that message.

Kenny Reisman and Kristen Race are planning an initiative called Hang Up and Hang Out, asking parents to set aside their cell phones when their children are present for the coming week. Their project is an excellent way for parents to become more attentive to their children as well as set a positive example of appropriate cell phone use.

The seeds of the project came from a message Reisman and Race received from their daughter. Reisman, a Steamboat Springs City Council member who is involved in several businesses, often found himself on the phone in the presence of his child. Frustrated, Reisman's daughter made him promise to stay off the phone around her for a week. Every time he slipped up, he owed her a buck.

Eight dollars and several months later, Reisman and Race are asking parents of Steamboat elementary school children to take up the same challenge. The two operate a business called Mindful Life, focusing on what they call brain-based solutions for families. The Hang Up and Hang Out initiative encourages parents to sign a pledge to stay off their cell phones in the presence of their children for a week starting Monday. The two are quick to note that they aren't asking parents to give up cell phones entirely. They understand the usefulness of the devices, which also can help parents work outside the office and spend more time at home. They're asking only for parents to make small changes, like putting their phones in another room during meals.

Smart phones continue to have a significant impact on how we communicate. They allow us to be connected 24 hours a day to e-mail, the Internet, text messages and phone calls. They also have the potential to cut down on face-to-face communication. Race, an expert in child, family and school psychology, pointed out in a conversation with the Steamboat Pilot & Today Editorial Board that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. Children learn those communication skills from those around them, particularly family members.

Race and Reisman are working with local groups such as First Impressions of Routt County as well as Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools on Hang Up and Hang Out. They will send pledge cards home to parents, asking them to commit to the weeklong effort. We encourage all parents to consider participating. What the program will help teach is responsible, mindful use of technology.

Children notice when their parents are inaccessible, and they likely will pick up those habits as they grow older. When parents put down their gadgets and give their undivided attention to a child, it sends a strong message about what — and who — is important.

Hang Up and Hang Out could have broader impacts. Parents of older children and teens could participate to show that face-to-face communication is crucial in all relationships and that there are more important things than the chime of an incoming text message. Reisman and Race's project also has implications for social media and other ever-developing communication trends.

It's a reminder, and an important one, that technology should not replace live interaction. The couple hopes to make Hang Up and Hang Out a national initiative in coming years. We support them in those efforts and urge the community to take notice next week — let's see what a difference it can make.