the flip of a switch


“Do you know what the best part of the big storm was?” one teen asked at a recent retreat following a multi-day power outage. “It was when my phone’s battery died. So great! No pressure to reply to texts or check status or count likes. No way to check my feeds. Instead, I got time to hang out—unplugged—and do whatever I wanted.” Surprised? Believe it or not, everyone agreed.


It’s easy to assume that teens want to be tethered to their technology. But stories like this remind us how burdensome constant connection can feel—no matter our age. While teens appear happy to stare at their strings of texts and streaks of snapchats, they may feel much differently inside. Many of us, young and old, are so busy swimming in this fast-moving current, we aren’t even aware how its pull wears us out. The silver lining is that we’re all a bit stuck in this current together. And we can help each other climb onto the bank from time to time to rest.


What if, for a few minutes each day, we could nap, play, create? When we remember to put our phones down, we can hear our imaginations instead. And so can everyone else. If technology is captivating, creativity is contagious. As you strum a guitar or knit in a nearby room, don’t be surprised if your teen picks up her sketchbook. With the simple flip of a switch, canvases and journals and instruments tempt us to tap into our creativity rather than our Instagram accounts.


It may take a bit of imagination—literally—for each of us to recognize that we really like creating. Our capacity to make something new, to transfer an idea from our minds to clean paper, raw wood, or an empty skillet, is universal. When we turn it on, we reap the benefits right away. Creating is good for us. And it’s not about producing anything tangible, nevermind remarkable. The process of creating is the point.


When we create, we feed a part of our brain that can lay dormant without our even realizing it. In his Huffington Post article “Make More Art: The Health Benefits of Art,” James Clear highlights findings from the American Journal of Public Health’s review titled, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health. Clear explains that creating was proven to:


  • reduce stress and anxiety

  • increase positive emotions

  • reduce the likelihood of depression


Clear shares the benefits of art (including writing) on our physical bodies. A groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine used writing as a treatment for HIV patients. Researchers found that the exercise of writing impacted cells inside the patients’ bodies. It actually improved their immune systems.


Is it our imagination—or is it not? Painting, carving, cooking, and countless other creative pursuits refresh us in a way few day-to-day activities do. As the teens in our group hand-poured candles into vintage vessels, we couldn’t help but wonder if they were secretly preparing for the next power outage. They were unplugged, and doing exactly what they wanted.

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