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    Needham families urged to turn off cellphones Friday

    NEEDHAM — Could you make it through dinner without checking your e-mail or Twitter feed? Could you ignore that text message on your cellphone?

    Needham residents will face that challenge Friday when the town holds its first “Phone-Free Friday,” part of a monthlong campaign to persuade families to put away their electronic devices and spend more time face-to-face.

    “It’s really reflective to how technology has changed,” said organizer Jon Mattleman, director of Needham Youth Services. “When we’re with a group of kids and we ask who has a smartphone, every hand goes up now. We need to start talking about our relationship to technology.”

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    This is the 13th year of “Needham Unplugged,” a month of events highlighted by a “no-homework, no-sports, no-activities” night when Mattleman teams up with the superintendent to impose a one-day homework ban and ask parents to cancel evening events.

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    “We look at this as an opportunity to pause from a real frenetic schedule and overload on work for young people,” said superintendent Daniel E. Gutekanst. “It’s an opportunity for the schools and the town to say it’s important to get together and it’s important to relax, reset, and think what it’s all about.” The movement has spurred other communities to follow suit, Mattleman said. But is an entire day off the cellphone going too far?

    “I think one day isn’t long enough,” said Regina Sharp, a Needham mother whose children have graduated from the schools. “But it’s a nice start. It’s a way to open the conversation and say to kids that there is more to life than their gadgets.”

    Jaclyn Reiss