How to go screen free

Screen freedom - how to go screen free at your placeLast 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.

How to go screen free for part of the week

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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.

Step 4

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.

Step 5

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.

Step 6

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.

Step 7

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?

Click here to read why screen freedom became part of our lives.

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  1. says

    That’s a great idea. We’re trying to cut down, but sometimes when you’re exhausted you only want to sit and rest, not break out the clay, paints, crafts. Then as the driver all the time going out is also a tiring exercise.

    • Maxabella says

      You’re very right, Valent – those first couple of Sundays when we went out for the day were really tiring, and you might not have to do that at your place. But we knew that we needed an environment completely free of screens to get our son over the line.

      After those first two weeks, it hasn’t been tiring at all. We do lots of quiet activities and definitely have time where we are all doing our own thing. You’ll be surprised how many activities the kids can do that hold their attention just as well as a screen. When we started screen free Sundays, Badoo was only 3, Cappers 5 and Max 6, so they were not independent at that stage by any means. I am working on a post that has tips for screen freedom with younger kids.

      All I can suggest is: give it a go. If a whole Sunday is too much, cut back by having ‘screen hour’ each day and at no other time. Or whatever works at your place! x

  2. Kristy says

    Do you include your phones? What about calls and text messages? Or quickly googling something on your phone (answer to a hard question or curiosity?) and no TV when kids are in bed and asleep?

    • Maxabella says

      All very good points! I am going to amend my post to show what I mean by ‘screen free’! x

      • Maxabella says

        Yep, done it – see the post above under ‘what do I mean by ‘screen free” – and thank you, Kristy! x

    • Maxabella says

      Not only do they not miss it, but eventually they start to miss the things they COULD be doing while they are on screens on screen days. It’s marvellous. x

  3. says

    We are screen free from Mon – Fri and have been since we finished travelling and realised how much we didn’t miss it. Kids LOVE friday afternoons for the fact that they can watch tv, play iPad etc. I think our next step is to roll out your Screen Free Sunday – as I do think we’ve gotten a bit lazy with our parenting on weekends – mostly as a result of being so busy during the week that we are exhausted on weekends and love that the kids will occupy themselves on devices. Must change that – thanks for the inspiration! hehehe got a good giggle out of SNS! Great post once again – thanks Bron!

    • Maxabella says

      It’s nice to know there are other Aussie screen freedom fams out there, Jess. I totally get that devices are a nice way to occupy the kids while we get on with other things. I do miss that. But it simply hasn’t been worth going back and that’s what I’m hoping to get across with these posts. x

    • Maxabella says

      The rules are more relaxed for Bart and I (especially after the kids go to bed), but we’ve definitely taken screen freedom on board. I would say we’ve both cut back on social media, television and web surfing by about 80%. x

  4. says

    It sounds all kinds of awesome, I don’t have to persuade any kids but I do have to try and get the hubster on board. It could prove to be tricky. Maybe Max doesn’t realise it now, but by being screen free, you’re giving the kids such a wonderful gift, and something all the family can enjoy together!

  5. says

    You already know how I feel about screens and kids, so I’d just like to say how totally impressed I am with the creative lengths that you went to to make it happen. And the best part of this post – the SNS mention! Good thing I wasn’t drinking hot tea at the time I read that – gave me a good laugh.

    • Maxabella says

      I’m not one to bleat on about good couple sex on the blog, but it goes without saying that less screens means a lot more time on our hands… x

    • Maxabella says

      If it’s important to you, try for Sundays, or another day that works for you. If it’s not something you think needs to happen, then that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The kids are alright. x

  6. says

    Hi Maxabella, this story is great and I love what you are doing. My kids are screen free except for TV at night. My husband and I on the other hand, are terrible screen people. My kids tell me to get off my phone all the time. So now I keep my blogging and email checking till after they go to bed.

    • Maxabella says

      We went screen free as much for my husbie and I as for the kids, Dianne. I think it benefits our wellbeing at any stage of life!! x

  7. says

    Sadly for us I think the screens offer us a little sanity while the girls are young. I do so much with them during the week that I enjoy the quiet screen times gives them and me. The key is having boundaries. You always make me think differently about family life Bron. I love that about your blog! Xx

    • Maxabella says

      I think that there is definitely a place for screens in any household, Bec. There is no judgement here! x

  8. says

    I’m so in love with this idea. I’ve just told the husband that we will be doing this (eventually) and that we need to start weaning ourselves off the screens. I’m SO looking forward to your list of ideas.

    • Maxabella says

      I’m publishing a new thing to do each day at 5am weekdays, Lauren. I hope there are loads of ideas there for you. I’m also putting it all together into an ebook that I hope will be a handy resource for those reaching for screen freedom! x

  9. says

    What holds me back is self-discipline (always my weakness) discipline to ‘ride the waves’ of nagging, and self-disciplined to be organised myself so I lead the way by example. I admit I find it hard to say ‘no’ if I’m also on the computer. Our lives have in the last several months become very screen dominated. David and I have just had a big chat about our new plan (easier to implement now with a ‘younger’ household) and tomorrow is a serious SFS, then a strict new screen plan for the week. Wish me luck

    • Maxabella says

      LUCK! Lots of it. But, really, you won’t need it. You have all the resources you need to get those curious kids of yours out doing other things. Keep me posted. x

      • says

        Thought you’d like to know, we ‘stuck to our guns’ yesterday! Though one child (not the one I expected) moaned and cried that he was bored. Not good, all the more reason to stick to the plan. Thanks for the inspiration:)

    • Maxabella says

      Work-related screen time is totally not included… so you MIGHT be able to get away with it at least one day a week, lovely. x

  10. says

    Love your tips to help go screen-free with the family!

    We are pretty much screen-free here most days. The kids just never got to watch much t.v. from the get-go as my husband moved it out of the main room when they were little.

  11. says

    My blog hasn’t been launched yet…working on it now. Your blog is an inspiration to me! I just read your “no screens” and I am totally on board. My foster (soon to be adopted, by us) daughter gets very little screen time and it is treated as a privilege that she has to earn. It’s kind of nice to have the option of giving her an iPad once in a great while so I can have some down time! But for the most time I don’t want to see her childhood whittled away in front of a screen.
    She works on a computer a lot, because I am homeschooling her through an online school. So that is enough screen time for her, there! She can also earn Friday night Family Movie Night, complete with snuggles and popcorn. I think it is far more appreciated by her than it would be if she were allowed to free-feed on TV all the time.
    The hardest thing for her to learn is how to entertain herself when she isn’t working on school work. She would rather puppy dog around and follow me or my husband around constantly and if we dare sit down she is climbing all over us. I finally got to the point where I scheduled a mandatory 20 minutes of “room time” every evening where she was REQUIRED to play with her toys! You would’ve thought I was rejecting her out of hand and banishing her to the Arctic for life, the way she carried on and tantrummed and cried and whined! But I stuck to my guns and my schedule and now she has accepted it and, I dare say, has started to actually enjoy her toys a bit!

    Thanks for the inspiration!



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