The phones are ringing off the hook at The Shady Pines Gazette. It’s been this way ever since the mayor decided to offer a reward for the best ideas to get people un plugged from their cell phones and devices. Editor Zulah Talmage and Scoop the cub reporter are doing their best to answer every call and take notes at the same time.

“Shady Pines Gazette, Zulah speaking. Oh, hi, Maggie.  Yes, I know. This contest has everybody talking. I’m not surprised your customers at the diner are doing the same. What’s that? Well, you have some good ideas there. I’ll jot them down. Thanks for calling!”

Meanwhile Scoop is talking to Pete, who’s calling from Pets Galore, the pet store. “Slow down, Pete, you’re going too fast,“ says Scoop as he scribbles on his notepad. “Really? You don’t say. Well I’ll be. Yea, those are some good ones. I’ll tell Ms. Talmage. Talk to you soon.”

Zulah looks up and sees that Scoop is off the phone. “What’d Pete have to say?”

Scoop flips a couple of pages back in his reporter’s notebook. “Pete says he and his employees are gathering their ideas as a group. They want to donate the $500 reward to charities that help pets.”Breaking News

Zulah claps her hands together. She does that when she gets excited. “What a wonderful thing to do! So, what do they have?”

Scoop uses his best reporter’s voice. “Here are their top three:

  • Turn off your phone when you enter our store.
  • If you forget and your phone rings, turn it off and return the call later.
  • If you must text while in our store, stand somewhere out of the way until you finish. Don’t keep texting and walking. That’s just rude. You could bump into someone.

As Zulah listens, she nods her head. “OK. This is a good start. Scoop let’s get a list going. Use the big, white board on the wall,” she suggests. “We’ll write down the ideas and the name of the person or group that came up with them.”

“I’m on it,” says Scoop. “So, what do the folks over at Maggie’s Diner have to say?”

As Scoop take his black marker and writes on the erasable board, Zulah adds these:

  • Limit the time a young child spends in front of the TV or on a phone or tablet. Too much screen time is like giving kids too much junk food. It’s not good for them.
  • At Maggie’s Diner, or at the dinner table at home, turn off the phone and actually talk, face to face, to one another.
  • For adults and kids, try turning off the phone, the TV, or the computer for an hour or so. Now that you’re not distracted, what are you going to do with that time? Will you do something creative? Play a game? Go outside and take a walk? 

Zulah barely gets the last word out when the phones start ringing again! “Please finish that up, Scoop, I’ll get the phones.”

Over on Dogwood Drive at the Sanders’ house, Harold and Edna are thinking up ideas of their own. Edna sits at the kitchen table and stares at the new cell phone she bought to replace the one she lost. Boomerang is laying at her feet pulling at his new chew bone.

Harold gets a cold drink out of the fridge and pops the cap. Taking a sip, he sees Edna holding the device with the pink case.

“Have you noticed your phone looks a lot like Halley’s collar?” asks Harold. At the mention of her name, Halley’s Comet lifts her head. Sensing it’s not dinner time, the flexible cat stretches ever so slightly and goes back to napping on her window seat.

“I can’t believe I had to buy another one of these fool things,” says Edna. “Especially when we’re being asked to be less dependent on them!”

Harold pulls up a chair and sits beside her. Boomer positions himself between the two so Harold can pet the Australian Shepherd’s head. “Well dear, this is as good a time as any to add our two cents to this contest,” says Harold. Edna agrees. “What device do we use the most?”

Harold takes a minute to think about that. “That’s a tough one. Between the cell phone, watching sports on TV, spending time on the computer or using the tablet to keep track of supplies for the store, I’m not sure.”

They look at one another. “This is amazing,” says Edna. “We really are staring at some sort of screen all the time.”

Boomer gets up and goes over to his bowl and laps up some water.

“So how are we going to spend more time un-plugged?” asks Harold.

Edna gets up and goes over to her kitchen desk where she keeps note paper and pens. “Normally, I’d be writing down recipes or what I need from the store, but this is really important.” 

Harold has a thought. “Why don’t we start by deciding how many hours a day we will have the TV on? That means we’ll have to be very selective about what we watch.”

“Good one,” says Edna. “I’ll add a few I got from some of the parents, grandparents and kids I talk to at the Community Center.

  • Decide how many hours of TV to watch per day. Set a timer to remind you that time’s up.
  • Parents, when you’re watching your kids at their ball game or event, put your phone away and really pay attention. Your children notice when you don’t make them your priority.
  • Any adult raising young children needs to monitor their social media use. Cyber bullying is a real threat.

“I think we have some good entries here, sweetheart,” says Harold checking his watch. “We have one more hour to beat the deadline. Why don’t I take Boomer for his walk? We’ll swing by the Gazette and drop off our ideas to Zulah and Scoop.”

“That works for me. Halley and I will start making dinner while you’re gone.”

Back at the Gazette office, Mayor Beauregard Fibbs has dropped by to see if he can pick a winner of the contest. After all, in addition to a $500 check, that person or group, also gets a proclamation from him!

“Well, well, well, says Mayor Fibbs. “Zulah, there are a lot of really good ideas here.”

Zulah agrees. “I am thrilled that so many of our neighbors got involved.”

“You can’t believe the phone calls, and emails and texts we got!” says Scoop.

“It is impressive,” says Fibbs. “But I think we have our winner. See for yourself:”

“I always hear people say that because of our cell phones, computers and such, we are more connected than ever. But, I’m not sure we’re connecting in the right way. Every day on my route and in the post office, I have people tell me they feel lonely, depressed and scared that they are becoming more disconnected from one another. So, I suggest we not only limit the time we spend on our devices, but that we find more ways to connect to one another with acts of kindness. Let’s schedule more community events and make sure no one feels left off. Everyone should feel welcome. This is Shady Pines after all!  – Kimberly Dunworthy, Mail Carrier 

Zulah, Scoop and the Mayor just look at one another.

Scoop breaks the silence. “What do you think she’ll do with the money?”

“I don’t know for sure. But knowing Kim, she’ll probably use it to find some way to give back and help others.”

“Yep, that sounds like her,” says Zulah.

And, that’s why visitors feel comfortable once they discover something truly delightful about this place. Kindness and caring live side by side in the small Southern town of Shady Pines!

***For More information about the importance of limiting screen time for young children, please go to this post in Offline Resources. Click HERE