I like to think I’m a pretty good parent, but I admit I really fall down on limiting screen time. I think the cause is twofold. When I’m desperately trying to pay the bills or handle raw chicken or something, I use the TV or computer to occupy the kids and keep them out of my hair. On the other hand, when I’m finished with pressing tasks and get some leisure time, I sure as hell ain’t the mom who says, “Hey, let’s go for a bike ride, that’ll be fun!!!” Nope, I’m right there on the couch or in front of the computer myself.
Being me, I decided to do something radical, rather than attempting to moderate our daily habits. Yesterday was our first weekly screen-free day. The children awaited it in terror. I wasn’t exactly sanguine myself, but I wanted us to spend a whole day doing other stuff, interacting with each other (gasp!), and prove to us all that we could live without the idiot boxes.
I prepared by planning to abandon many chores. I was ready not to get much done, as I helped the kids find fun stuff to do outside their normal routine. And part of the point was to spend time together after all, so I gave myself permission to leave the Christmas tree half-denuded, the floors unvacuumed, and to put off bill-paying till today.
The other preparation was a list of screen-free activities. I wanted to have a set of options at hand for the inevitable, “We’re booooored!” moments. Since we’re all used to plopping down and being entertained by pixels, I realized I might not be able to come up with good ideas on the spur of the moment.
Here’s what I did with the children yesterday:
- Played Crazy 8s and War
- Played Monopoly
- Read The Hobbit aloud to Chloe
- Read a bunch of different books to each other
- Baked brownies
- Went outside and rode bikes and climbed a tree (I watched)
Here’s what the girls did without me, while I cooked, cleaned, and ran the household:
- Played with toys
- Found old flip phones and played pretend with them for an hour or more
- Practiced riding a bike without training wheels (up and down the hallway inside!)
- Colored with markers
I confess, to get them to be nice and play with each other while I prepped dinner, I did tell them I needed to get dinner all set before we could bake brownies, and so they needed to stop whining and fighting (an activity not at all confined to unplugged days) and let me work uninterrupted for a while. Normally I avoid using any kind of food reward for the kids, but since this was an activity as well as a treat, and I was doing something unusually challenging, I relaxed that rule a bit.
All in all, it was successful. We spent time with each other. We learned that as alluring as TV and Minecraft and Facebook are, we can survive without using them at all! This in turn has inspired me to be more vigilant about limiting screen time on a daily basis. Once we all got through a whole day without this stuff, it makes it easier for me to say, “That’s enough for today, you can find something else to do.”
I plan to keep doing this, and I learned a few things I’ll use in the future. First, we need a couple board games Claire can play. I plan on picking up Trouble, and maybe another preschool-friendly game, if I can find one that isn’t too annoying. Second, planning an outing would be a very good idea. If I had arranged the schedule differently, we could have hit the park for two hours and really gotten more physical activity and used up more time! Third, this is a great way to encourage reading. Chloe’s a good (heck, Gifted™ ) reader, but she resists reading at home. It took until the evening for her to pick up a book on her own and just read to herself for entertainment. It’s a good indicator that I need to cut off her other entertainment options at a certain point to make room for reading in her life.
I encourage everyone to give this a try. It’s really good for bodies, brains, and relationships. And the cold turkey aspect helps set us all up to be less attached to our devices, which is a vital skill in the modern world!