Surviving Screen-free Week

Once upon a time Screen-Free Week used to be known as TV Turnoff and Digital Detox Week. Participating in TV Turnoff was a bit easier when my daughters were younger because laptops, tablets and iPhones weren’t nearly as pervasive as they are today.

When my kids were toddlers I stumbled upon a very easy way of letting them know when the TV was off-limits. I used MS-Word to find a clipart image of a television set and printed it on a full sheet of paper. Then I took a red marker and drew a circle around it along with a thick line right through the middle. And then I taped it to our television cabinet. Amazingly they accepted the “no-TV” sign without question, and more often than not, happily toddled along to do something else.

I didn’t just use our sign for TV Turnoff week. I brought it out whenever I felt their eyes were becoming a little too square.  

That was only 7 or 8 years ago, but today, with escalating numbers of computers and mobile devices in each household, achieving a screen-free week has become a lot more challenging. But I don’t think it’s impossible.

I think it’s important to shut down and tune out every once in a while because it teaches kids how to keep themselves busy, entertained and self-reliant on their own. I want my kids to be able to be content without being plugged in.  This is a skill that has to be learned, and it’s more important than we realize.     

Have you noticed that when the screens are off, people automatically start interacting with each other more? We talk more, laugh more, and share more. If our attention is on each other and not on our screens, our relationships seem to get stronger. And this is a good thing.

I secretly fear that all of this technology – the clicking and mindless surfing and passive viewing – is altering our collective attention spans. It’s becoming harder to focus and much easier to multitask. Time away from all of our screens gives us the extra thinking time we are missing. (This is why many of us do our best thinking in the shower, in the car, or while we’re walking the dog.) This kind of downtime just HAS to be good for us.

A holiday from screen time really forces us to be a little more creative in terms of our activities, and this part of it always amazes me. The dog gets longer walks, we play more board games as a family, read more books, and do other fun things in the evenings like go swimming at the local pool or baking some treats.

Maybe you truly can’t imagine life without your TV or tablet, and you’re not the kind of parent who is willing to go completely screen-free. How about imposing some temporary limits for a week instead? Here are a few ideas:

  • Although we generally don’t allow devices at the dinner table, you can also take it one step further by asking everyone to put turn off the tablets and phones for 30 minutes before and after dinner too. That way the focus is really on the family, and on dinner prep and clean up. (Related: how about Screen-Free zones? Hmm.)
  • Take a break from firing up ye old DVD player in the mini-van for short trips.   Use the opportunity to chat and play I-Spy out the window instead.
  • Got pre-readers?  See that your toddler spends more time with books – the non-interactive kind – and reduce the amount of time on the iPad playing educational games.
  • Place a temporary restraining order on frequency and time of use for all devices. For example, make a rule that Minecraft is for 30 minutes after school only, not before school in the morning.

In my experience, the best course of action as it pertains to enforcing a Screen-Free week is to DISTRACT and DIVERT attention, and not just DENY. Identify the parts of the day that tend to be the most “device heavy” and plan something for those times before they happen. For us it’s after school and in the evenings, and I will have a plan in place to pre-empt whining and eyeball rolling. For example, I’ll suggest we go visit with friends, or go to the park, before my daughter plops down on the couch and reaches for the remote.screen-free week logo

As for myself, how will I fare during Screen Free week considering that such a large part of my work takes place online? I can get by without TV without too much issue, but non-essential web browsing and mindless Facebook surfing will be shut down. I plan on reading more books (although I just realized most of my reading is done on a tablet – does that count?) and finding other things to do with my free time.  It won’t be easy, but I think it’s a challenge that’s worth trying.  

What about you? Are you going to participate in Screen-Free week? How hard – or easy – will it be for you to do? Here’s a tip sheet with more information about the week.

If you’re interested in reading some useful tips pertaining to screen time and children, check out this tip sheet!