I know I’m not alone here because when I made a post about it on my personal Facebook page, several friends said they had noticed the same: when their kids had too much screen time (“too much” is, of course, up for interpretation), their kids’ behavior changed.
As you can guess, the behavior changes were not positive ones.
More irritability. More moodiness. Less flexibility. Less willingness to be creative and think of new activities. Anger over TVs or iPads being turned off. I’m sure the list could go on.
I’ve noticed some of these behaviors in my own home for awhile, but to be honest, I was in denial. I told myself that I needed the screens for my own sanity (I’m almost never away from my kids) and their boredom.
“But the shows/games are educational!” or “I need some downtime,” I told myself. While maintaining sanity when kids are home all summer is important . . . does it come at a cost?
The Turning Point
A couple weeks back, my three year old daughter told me she wasn’t leaving to go to the park because she was too busy watching “Dora.” She then became angry when I clicked the power-off button on the remote. I decided then and there that I’d had enough. I had to make a change because I knew this wasn’t good, and I couldn’t allow this behavior to continue. I’m the parent, after all, and how much screen time my kids get is completely in my control.
I came up with the idea to try a very unscientific “experiment” of sorts: I wanted to see how my kids would react to a week without screens. No TV. No iPads. Nothing. Not even if it was “educational.” (I made an exception for FaceTime with their out-of-state grandparents, but I think that’s a legitimate exception). When I told my husband of my plan, even he was skeptical.
But after a few days in, I was shocked by the result. I expected some upset kids, whining, and complaining. There was basically none of that. Wow. I think my kids asked about watching a show maybe once or twice during our screen-free week.
When I firmly made it clear that it wasn’t an option, they pretty quickly moved on. Amazing, if you ask me. My six year old likes rules, and he was ever-so-eager to remind his little sister of our no-screens policy that week as much as he could!
The Results of Our Screen-Free Week
- Instead of immediately turning on a cartoon in the morning, my kids played in very creative ways together. It was adorable listening to them.
- We spent even more time outdoors.
- My kids read tons of books. We’re already avid readers in this house, but wow! They both asked to read throughout the day out of boredom. And because TV was not an option before bed, they had only books to fulfill their imaginations. I read probably 15 books a day to my three (almost four) year old, and my six year old read his first chapter book in record speed! We tripled our typical book reading that week.
- They fell asleep faster and earlier each night! My husband was most surprised by this. Bedtime was just an overall smoother experience. For this reason and the one above, we will not allow any screen time close to bedtime again, unless it’s for a special family movie night.
- My kids found so many ways to use their imaginations. They made spaceships out of old Amazon boxes, they made planets out of random art supplies, they created their own telescopes out of paper, and the list goes on!
- Yes, their behavior did improve! I won’t lie and say that no screens morphed them into perfect angels. They are still siblings at home for the summer, after all. The moodiness and irritability that often accompanied screens being turned off was just no longer a thing. Transitions to new activities were easier, and my kids were more eager to come up with new ideas that didn’t involve staring at a device.
- I also noticed that I used my phone much less during that week. Because I had no “TV babysitter” at all, it “forced” me to be even more engaged with my kids. It was a good reminder for me to also set my phone down more often, especially if I want to be a good example of appropriate screen usage.
What’s the Verdict?
Will I stick with a screen-free summer? Almost! But not totally. Giving up all screens for all of eternity was never my goal. That might be ideal or realistic for some, and if that’s you – more power to you! But I 100%, abso-freakin’-lutely will be drastically decreasing my kids’ screen time.
No more cartoons in the morning or before bed, as I stated above. No more games on iPads — they’re just not necessary in my opinion unless it’s used for the occasional guided learning experience (my son enjoys doing math on Happy Numbers sometimes).
What I will allow is a small amount of TV time (usually PBS for us) in the middle of the day. My kids no longer nap, and I think this is a nice downtime for all of us. I can catch up on things that need to be done around the house, and they can take a “break” before our afternoon summer shenanigans. My son is obsessed with “Wild Kratts,” and I can’t imagine him not ever getting to watch his favorite show.
Our week without screens showed me how much positive can come from less and less screen time. It also revealed how capable my kids are of finding things to fill those boredom gaps that I once thought only screens could fill.
Cheers to a 1980s and ’90s style summer (before technology took over every aspect of our lives). If you’re thinking about doing a screen detox — whether it’s for a week, a month, or even all of summer break — do it! I bet you’ll learn a lot and also be inspired to limit the use of screens in your home.
Are you trying to reduce screen time this summer? What are some of your favorite screen-free kid activities?