When the Screen Went Dark

In this technology driven age, we tried a rather extreme experiment recently. We put our kids on a 3 week long, interactive screens fast. No video games, no tablets, no computers, no cheap handheld games from drugstores, and even no peeking over our shoulders to stare at our phones. 

Know what happened? 

My house became a disaster, from toys and Legos actually being used.

They willingly went outside to play, even when it was cold and gross out.

They created new games.

They used their imaginations. 

They got along better.

I yelled less.

Basically, it was amazing. Well, aside from the whole house becoming a disaster thing… but clearly that was worth it! 

A little background for you – I have triplet boys who are 10, and a daughter who is 7. They weren’t what I would call “excessive” screen users prior to the experiment; rather they would watch a PBS show for 30 minutes most mornings, would sometimes play a video game or watch a little more TV for 30-45 minutes in the evening, and weekends (Sundays especially) was heavier screen use with several hours over the weekend.

I had been encountering more and more articles online about the effects screens had on kids, and we would half-heartedly try to just “cut back” but never really saw a big enough change to make up for the intense whining. One day I saw the book Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time by Victoria Dunckley, M.D. mentioned on FB, and promptly ordered it. 

The book isn’t an easy read, and I’ll confess to skimming a lot when I felt it was being redundant (I didn’t need convincing that the screens were messing with us) or didn’t apply to me (there’s a lot of talk about things like ADHD, something none of my kids struggle with), but there was plenty that caught my attention. Fewer meltdowns? Yes, please! Less yelling and fighting? Sign me up! More fun together as a family? Heck yes!

Four days before Spring Break week, we broke the news to them… for the next three weeks they wouldn’t be using any interactive screens. Zero. Zippo. Nada. They would get occasional TV time, but it would never be in the morning, would be carefully selected content, and would only happen once or twice a week, in short bursts.

My husband and I also promised that we would not be on our own phones and computers as often when they were around (and we requested this same behavior to other adults that were around them during the fast). I found this to be especially challenging, as I’m a small business owner and used to multitasking when the kids are home! In order to not be tempted to follow up with that photography inquiry or email, I actually moved my laptop to the bedroom as soon as they kids got home from school, and I would keep my cell phone face down on the kitchen table so that I wouldn’t be tempted to check it with every notification chime. 

I tell you what – that part was eye-opening for me! I had no idea just how much “just one more minute” level multitasking I was doing with them around. I still snapped cell phone pictures of them, but 90% of the time would wait to post them until after the kids weren’t around or were in bed, which took a lot of retraining on my part. I loved being more engaged with them though! Those few minutes of posting (and then risking being sucked down the social media hole) adds up!

Per the book’s suggestion, we created a calendar of fun activities to do during the fast – some cost money, but most were free or cheap. These three weeks gave us the chance to do things we’d been talking about for years (like going ice skating), and new things that had never occurred to us (a family game night, that started during dinner and extended to bed time)! We had scheduled a family movie night, but that turned into “family watch KU play in the NCAA tournament” night instead.

So let’s talk bottom line here! 

Before the fast, we were averaging two meltdowns from the kids EVERY day, as well as multiple instances of arguing, yelling, or disrespect. It’s no wonder I was completely stressed out and mentally exhausted.

By the end of the 3 weeks? We were at 1 meltdown from the kids per WEEK, and we could go an entire day with no one arguing, yelling, or being disrespectful. True story! 

At the end of the 3 weeks, the kids were anxious to get back to their screens, but my husband and I were not anxious to return to utter chaos in the emotional outburst department. Over dinner, I asked the kids how they felt the three weeks had gone. We heard things like “we’re more relaxed,” “we’re happier,” “there isn’t as much yelling,” etc. Obviously even the kids were picking up on the change, which was huge! Because of that, there was zero melting down or tears when we revealed that screens would be reintroduced on weekends only, and for the next couple of months they would only get 15 minutes on Saturdays or Sundays. 

We’ve now been living with this new normal for a couple of weeks, and it’s been wonderful! I’m not nearly as stressed and frustrated as I was 3 months ago, and my kids are all so much happier and level headed. An all out fast like that is scary (because, messy house!), but the payoff is SO worth it. Take back your sanity, and give your children back their imaginations – you won’t regret it!

Helen Ransom

Helen and her husband are Kansas City transplants who thought they’d be heading back to New England but instead, fell in love with KC. She has identical triplet boys – Jackson, Ty, and Chase – who have somehow managed to survive life long enough to make it to fourth grade, and Lily, who is now in first grade, and learned from a young age to duck when things fly through the room. Helen also has a newborn and baby photography studio in Waldo, Faces You Love Photography

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