I recently mentioned that the fam has been screen-free from Sunday – Thursday since December last year. Since that post, I’ve received lots of messages asking me “how did you do it?” and “weren’t you scared?” and “whhhhhy?”, so I thought I’d tell you all a bit more about it in a couple of posts.
First, the why.
If it was just our two girls, we would never have seen the need to impose screen freedom. Both Cappers and Badoo seem to have natural boundaries when it comes to using the screens in their lives – television, computer, iPads, iPods. Left to their own devices (pun!), they have always preferred to get a game going together rather than sit staring at a light box. They like to watch shows on TV or ABC iview like A gURL’s Wurld (Aussie show, very repetitive), Life with Boys (canned laughter vom fest), Ben and Holly (what’s not to love?) and Operation Ouch (ouch!) or create projects on the computer (Cappers is writing a book about having fun with your teddy bear, if you can believe it), but they will rarely ask to turn on the TV or go on a screen.
Max, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to stare at a light box all day, every day. Screens are his first love and it is a deep and abiding love indeed. He loves to play computer games like Minecraft, Zoo Tycoon, Club Penguin (except our membership expired, sorry penguins) and apps like Terraria, Comics in the Classroom, Friendstrip and Snake Simulator (snakes are his current obsession). On TV he likes Slugterra (a love shared by his littlest sister who has slugs on her homework book), Pokemon (of course!), Blue Zoo (boring) and Regular Show (awful). He also creates projects on things that interest him using Powerpoint and watches Youtube videos about Minecraft, Pokemon and Smosh things that are completely age inappropriate even if they are rather funny.
So, we’ve always had to set screen boundaries for Max. Over time we’ve had to be more and more restrictive because otherwise he would just be on screens all the time. If he’s not on screens, he’s asking when he can go on screens or arguing about why he can’t go on screens.
Then came the waiting game.
I noticed towards the end of last year that when he wasn’t allowed on screens he was basically just filling in time until the next time he was allowed on screens. So he was on a screen or waiting or back on a screen. Sometimes the waiting was a whole night and a school day, but he was waiting nonetheless. By ‘waiting’ I mean that he was half-engaged with his life and half thinking about when he could next get back into his game.
This bothered me so much that I started moving the screen time further and further apart in the hope that he would stop waiting… that sort of worked, but not really. It turned out he was a lot more patient than I gave him credit for.
Then we tried using screen time as a reward for doing good in other areas of life, especially for physical or creative activity or outdoor time. This seemed to work for a while, but after a while Max became aggressive about how much computer time he was ‘owed’, he asked about screens all day every day and began going outside with the sole purpose of earning time inside on screens. It just never ended.
Added to that was the fact that morning television had crept up from being an early-morning weekend thing to an everyday thing. This was my own darn fault because I thought that rewarding the kids with some morning TV if they got completely ready for school would be a good thing. Instead, very soon they were all waking at the crack of dawn, getting ready so fast your head would spin and turning on their ‘reward’ at about 7am for a leisurely 2 hours of television before school.
Not only did I think this was way too much television, but I was also sick and tired of being greeted by the babble of children’s television instead of my loving children each morning.
Something had to give.
Clearly things were out of control and I identified my key frustrations as being:
- the sound of morning television.
- the sight of my creative, charming, energetic children staring lazily at… what exactly?
- the kids watching television while eating.
- the aggression that Max displayed after being on the computer.
- being asked all the time by Max whether he could go on a screen.
- my boy’s apparent inability to do anything other than screens.
- feeling like screens were the best part of my children’s lives.
- lacking family time together because everyone was glued to their own devices.
- feeling like time together was secondary because everyone would rather be on a screen.
In addition, there was something I noticed about my own behaviour that I didn’t like one little bit: sometimes I was happiest when they were all on screens as the house was quiet and I could ‘get on with my stuff’. Even though the net affect was clearly detrimental, I recognised that screens made parenting in the moment ‘easier’.
Once I wrote down how I really felt about screens, I knew the time had come to do something about it.
We had been converts to “screen-free Sundays” (SFS) for a couple of years at this point and I realised that the thing I loved most about SFS was that nobody bugged me about screens for the whole day. They just weren’t an option, so no one thought to ask about them. I loved the freedom that SFS brought me on Sundays.
I also loved the togetherness of SFS. Because I knew that the kids would need some screen-free fun to make the day a good one, I tended to organise more structured activities for them. I put more effort into being together, being outside, doing different things, visiting new places and trying things we’ve never tried before. I was more available, more relaxed, more engaged. There was no doubt about it, I was a better parent on SFS.
This made me wonder whether I could manage to make screens a non-option for the better part of a week. Could I do it? Could we do it? Would we parents have to be screen-free too to make it work? Could I handle that? What would the kids say? What would they do? What would we do? All day? Every day?
I promise I’ll tell you all about the ‘how’ in my next Screen Freedom post!
Are you screen-free? Do you want to be?
What are your major reasons for being tempted to be a screen-free family?