The house was quiet—too quiet, considering a five-year-old and an almost eight-year-old were home. Walking into their room I saw their blank faces illuminated by screens and I sighed. We’d only been home for a few minutes!
While my kids love a bike ride, playdate or park visit as much as the next child, as soon as we arrive home, the nagging for screen time begins.
It’s true that my husband and I enjoy the peace and quiet that screen time bestows upon us. What we don’t enjoy is the fall out from it.
My family’s problem with screen time
The kids become cranky and irritable about turning off the device, and they’re wired at bedtime and have trouble falling asleep. Suggestions for other activities are greeted with a grunt (or silence); they complain when screens aren’t available; and they ask to use screens even in the company of visiting friends or relatives.
At a certain point, it became clear to us that the negatives were far outweighing the benefits. We felt that we had become too relaxed. We had lost control and weren’t sure how to get it back.
I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. Screen time is a major source of mom-guilt. Research conducted by the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Digital Health Task Force found that three-quarters of Canadian parents are concerned about their kids’ media use.
At five and nearly eight, my kids are still quite young, so they don’t use screens for homework or school projects. It’s all just pure, mindless entertainment. (Example: My daughter can spend hours watching videos of other kids playing with Barbies, as she ignores her drawer full of her own Barbies.)
Finally, after one-too-many bedtime battles, we cracked and implemented a two-week ban on all screens in the house. We felt that by going cold turkey, but for a limited amount of time, we could reset the boundaries around screens.
The experiment begins…
I braced myself, but the kids took the news surprisingly well. Perhaps knowing that it was just for two weeks lessened the blow.
That said, during the first couple of days, the kids just didn’t know what to do with themselves. They would wander about aimlessly, whining about life being unfair and proclaiming that they were the “Chairman of the Bored” (it’s an Iggy Pop lyric—they’re big fans).
Eventually, they started to realize that we wouldn’t be changing our minds, and somehow, magically, without the drama we expected, they eventually stopped complaining and starting playing. And playing. And playing. Then they played TOGETHER.
My husband and I would see them down on the floor, drawing roads and cities for their toy cars., and give each other wide-eyed looks as if to say, Are you seeing this?!
They even stopped asking us how many days until the ban was lifted. Then they powered through a long list of activities that would never have happened if screens were on offer.
They pretended to be ninja puppies (I’m still not sure what that’s all about, to be honest), drew portraits of each other, played with toy cars (for the first time in about three years), made a puppet show, baked brownies, read books, painted pictures, made obstacle courses, played board games, played UNO, coloured, and helped with some gardening.
We even took a long train trip without screens! I played more games of Sudoku than I’d ever like to play again, but we did it. I even had a wonderful woman lean over and tell me how lovely it was to see kids without screens. That was a #proudmom moment, I can tell you.
The ban was eye-opening for us adults too, with the kids questioning our phone use. I hadn’t realized just how much time I spent with them while also looking at my phone or computer. I noticed that I often watched television while also looking at my phone. This had to change. I started putting my phone away rather than always having it within arm’s reach. Breaking the habit was the hardest part. Soon I felt free without my phone’s constant pinging.
Our new normal
As the two-week ban drew to a close, we knew that we didn’t want to go back to our old ways. We decided that for us, the best option was a total screen ban for the kids through the school week, with screen time allowed for an hour after school on Friday, as well as on Saturday and Sunday mornings until 10 a.m.
The children now look forward to their screen time, and when the time is up they (mostly) pack away the devices without a fuss and find something else to do. There’s no nagging after school as they understand our blanket rule and have made their peace with it.
The two-week hiatus completely changed our relationship with screens for the better. Now when we walk in the door after school, instead of running for their screen, my son will ask my daughter, “Should we play ninja puppies?” and they’ll run off down the hall together.
This article was originally published online in November 2019.