Last week I talked about why our family has decided to be screen-free from Sunday – Thursday. Screens were becoming far too intrusive in our family life (and my son’s head), so we decided (okay, I decided) to extend our usual Screen Free Sundays (SFS) for most of the week.
Before I tell you how we first started SFS and how we then rolled it through to Friday, I wanted to tell you what my kids said this morning when I asked them how they felt about being screen free a lot of the week. Here’s what they said:
How the kids feel about screen freedom
Badoo, age 6: I miss watching television in the morning, but otherwise I don’t really notice it.
Cappers, age 9: I wouldn’t even know whether it was a screen day or not any more. It was hard in the beginning.
Max, age 10: You know I think it sux. But I’m doing more things. I’ve found new interests in things like snakes and chess and cards, oh and my sisters. I’m mostly just glad when Friday comes along, but I don’t wait for it like I used to. I’m mainly just cross because you won’t let me write my novel on the computer during the week and then when the weekend comes along I forget to do it because I’m on games instead.
I was actually a little bit nervous about asking them, but I think we can see that three months into our ‘program’, things are very stable. I was extremely pleased to hear that Max can see some benefits to being without his one-true-love (computers). I am really looking forward to the day when I catch him typing his ‘novel’ in rather than playing a computer game when Friday rolls around. I think we are very close… and when that day comes, I fully intend to allow the boy to use the computer to write his novel a little bit each day.
That’s the thing about screen freedom – it’s not necessarily about never watching or playing or working on screens – it’s rather about setting firm boundaries so that screens play a supportive role in our lives, not a structural one. I’m extremely pro-computers for kids – I think it’s essential that they learn how to use them and live with them from a young age. I am completely jealous of all the cool things kids can do with apps and cameras and games and inspiration at every turn. Fact is, I totally want to raise computer natives, but not at the expense of raising human beings first. I think screens need to be put back in their place so kids can develop their own way of doing things before they collaborate so intricately with others. Screen freedom has so far allowed me to wrestle the control back and put myself and my kids back in charge.
What do I mean by ‘screen free’
Here’s what ‘screen free’ means at my place:
- No television for anyone at all except the occasional movie at night.
- No computers unless it’s genuinely for homework or ‘for work’ (note that this is my husband and my ‘get out jail’ card!).
- No iPods, Pads, data on Phones (calls and SMS okay!) or gaming devices.
- Grown-ups are allowed to check emails or use google to find stuff out.
Bart and I save up favourite television programs to watch on Friday nights. We very quickly discovered that we really only liked about three programs enough to bother with. The same is true for the kids TIVOing programs to watch on Saturdays – we quickly culled their long list of favourites down to about two each.
Starting out with SFS
About two years ago I introduced my eager children to the idea of having screen-free Sundays. At this point I just wanted a day when the television remained off and the kids were made to go outside and find something wholesome to do. Starting with one day a week was a very good idea because it allowed us time to build up a rhythm for how our days would work when screens didn’t interfere.
Looking back, we had a pretty clear intention behind and a very firm plan about how we would get away from the screens. Here’s what we did.
I got my husbie on board so that I knew this is something we both wanted for our kids and, as it turned out, ourselves. We both missed our days of not owning a television (for years and years when we travelled and lived abroad), and we were keen to reintroduce quieter evenings where we talked, listened to music, worked on random hobbies, phoned a friend and planned the week ahead. I was fully prepared to offer obligatory SNS (Sunday Night Sex) in exchange for SFS, but it didn’t come to that as Bart was completely sold on the idea of no-screens from the get-go. Reading this, he probably regrets that now.
Next I pulled together a big list of all the things the kids and the family could do on Sundays instead of watching screens. I will publish loads and loads of these ideas over the next few weeks / months / probably years – ‘cos turns out there are a million and one better things to do with our time than watch a light box.
With our big list in hand we then sat the kids down on a Sunday afternoon to break the sorry news to them. Of course, we didn’t let on for a second that we knew this news would be bad news. Instead, we acted like SFS was a huge opportunity for our family to do cool things together, learn new things, go to new places and generally have loads of new fun. Actually, we didn’t need to act because SFS is all those things and more.
My two girls faces lit up like it was going to be screen-free Christmas rather than SFS every week, but Max (as expected) wasn’t buying it for a second. There were threats, there were tantrums, there were tears. He was as miserable as you would expect from an addict having his crutch taken away and we realised that we were right to have come prepared and armed with ideas and a positive attitude. This was going to be a rough ride.
We told the kids on Sunday to give them all week to get used to the idea of SFS and all week I gently reminded them that it was coming up. What I didn’t let on was the fact that their dad and I had planned a full day of excursions and activities that Sunday, so our very first SFS was a complete non-event. We went out for breakfast and came home after dinner at which stage it was time for bath and bed.
That night we made a big deal about how great our first SFS had gone and how proud we were of the kids not even asking once to go on a screen.
“But there were no screens,” Max said in bewilderment.
“Exactly,” I said.
We repeated Step 4 for our second SFS. Out for breakfast, home at bedtime. This time we didn’t mention the screens and nor did the kids.
Week three and we were ready for a relaxing day at home rather than another out-and-about marathon session. The girls, already well-versed in keeping themselves creatively occupied, got on with some crafting, playing schools, painting, origami and clay molding (there’s no denying that screen freedom is definitely a messier way to live!). By midday Max’s protests were loud and boring, but each time he moaned, I simply gave him another idea off my list of things to do. Nothing was interesting, everything was boring, life sucked and so did mum. He spent a fair amount of time banished to his bedroom for disobedience, but by late afternoon he was playing with his animals in an elaborate game of Real World Minecraft and didn’t mention screens to us again for the rest of the day.
Week 5 was the break-through week. Max still lost his temper and yelled about a lack of screens, but started to talk about “tomorrow can I have some time” rather than begging incessantly about Sundays. By Week 6, the kid had accepted that Sundays were simply not a day for screens, didn’t mention screens at all and was starting to play with his sisters again – something he hadn’t done for over a year at least.
What helped the most
This is how SFS went down at our place. I think the keys to success were:
- Be resolved in your intention to banish screens so you can fight all resistance.
- Make the rules and stick to them, no matter what.
- Have a plan for the first couple of weeks that will completely take the kids’ minds off screens.
- Have a list of cool things to do that don’t involve screens.
- Beyond the first few weeks, place the responsibility for keeping occupied and interested on the kids.
- Plan for lots of outdoor time – things are always better outside.
- Be ready to up sticks and head out to the park if the kids start circling.
- Ride the wave of resistence firmly and without fuss.
Once we had SFS chugging along nicely (probably two or so months into it), it was just part of our family’s everyday rhythm. The girls seemed to naturally start to watch less television during the week as they realised how much more fun they could be having doing their own thing. Max naturally started to plan his weeks around the Sunday void, saving books he wanted to read and asking for a friend to play on Sunday, rather than after school.
Remember, it’s painful at first but not for very long.
The biggest win of all
The biggest win, however, was the family time we started to spend together on Sundays. SFS made me realise that as the kids grew a little older, in many ways I had become a much lazier parent. They are all creative types, so I mostly left it up to them to get on with their own projects and games, little realising how much I still had to contribute to their fun and development.
On Sundays, I started to take more of an interest in what they were up to, offering ideas and and suggesting different ways to enhance their play. I began setting up little games that I knew they would like, things that brought all three of them together and, later, all five of us to play as a family. The old-school games came out to play – board games, card games, outdoor games like fly and colours. It took me a good six months to realise that I was looking forward to SFS more than any other day because it was the day I felt most connected to my family. It was the day I felt most connected to myself.
I’ll write more about how that felt and how it led me to roll SFS out into the rest of our week in my next screen freedom post. In the meantime. please tell me in the comments what you think your biggest barriers would be to introducing screen freedom at your place. Are you concerned about the kids’ reactions? Do you think there wouldn’t be enough benefit? Is it worry that you wouldn’t have any time to yourself in the day? (If your kids are still really little, I totally get that.)
What holds you back?