So, we decided to become a screen-free family. I removed our Wii, took away my kids iPads, and even unplugged the television. But what happened next?
I was encouraged when I took away my children’s access to iPads and video games. Almost immediately after becoming a screen-free family my youngest sons’ tantrums quickly disappeared, and my older son began doing better in school. Sounds like a success story, right?
There would be no reason for me or anyone else to question my choice. But, that’s exactly what happened next.
Our lives before I removed our screens were volatile.
My eight-year-old son was plagued by tantrums so terrible that we hid our kitchen knives and removed potentially destructive objects like baseball bats and hammers from within his reach. We had a safety plan in place for the two other children in our family when these violent tantrums occurred. My nine-year-old and my teenage daughter would leave the home and walk to their Grandma’s house down the street and wait there for someone to come to get them.
When I called the school resource officer seeking strategies to help my son, the first question he asked me was, “Does your son play video games?”
This was one of the first indicators to us that access to video games and screens was the cause of these tantrums. With the support of my now husband, I reluctantly removed the screens from our home.
A few months after we became a screen-free family by taking away the iPads and our Wii console, I realized that tantrums didn’t rule our lives anymore. My son still had temper control issues, but he quickly learned that he could deal with his own emotions by going outside and throwing rocks in the lake or climbing a tree.
But the real magic happened more than six months after I took the devices away.
The culture of our home completely changed. When you do something as radical as removing all devices from your home, the focus of daily life shifts. As a parent, I had to figure out how to fill my children’s free time. Because they were previously entertained by neurologically stimulating video games that engaged their brains but taught them very little about how to entertain themselves without the aid of a screen, I had to teach them how to be kids again.
This took quite a bit of effort on my part. My now husband helped, of course. Being a screen-free family is a big commitment.
We learned multiple ways to keep the kids busy.
Together, we conquered our weekends outdoors. Very quickly, we learned multiple ways to keep the kids busy. Our bicycles got a workout, and so did our children! My nine-year-old had been diagnosed as overweight by his pediatrician at his annual checkup. He was ordered to have his blood drawn to check his blood sugar and lipids.
Imagine my surprise when, at his next doctor’s visit, his BMI had decreased. I hadn’t been paying attention to his weight, so when the doctor looked up from her computer and asked us what we’d been doing differently, I was happy to tell her, “We took away their iPads!”
With no screens to entertain them, my children developed an interest in books.
With no screens to entertain them, my children developed an interest in books. Initially, they had to be coaxed into reading, and my husband and I would read books to them during family time every evening. After a few months, each boy began to develop his own interests. One son loved stories about dogs, eagerly devouring the Shiloh series. The younger son enjoyed books that involved fantasy themes and vivid, magical characters. Some of his favorites were: A Wrinkle in Time and Podkin One-Ear.
Our storytime began to evolve into one-on-one time with each child, and as we read to the children, we were able to share our own feelings with one another in private. Our relationships began to grow stronger.
My children began to bring books in the car to read as we traveled from place to place. These were the same kids who couldn’t sit still on that first car trip without screens to entertain them.
Eventually, my children stopped asking when they could have their devices back.
After about six months, the children stopped asking when I would give their iPads back. We replaced the television set in our home with an aquarium, and by then, nobody really cared. Expensive movie nights and costly visits to Chuck E. Cheese were replaced with bike rides to the park, sweaty games of tag, and campfires. Our driveway was frequently filled with bicycles and discarded bike helmets, and the neighborhood kids began checking out Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Oliver Twist from our library of thrift store books.
At the end of my middle son’s fourth-grade year, I received a call from the vice principal. I was surprised to find out that my son who struggled to PASS the third grade had scored so well on his evaluations that he was moved into the Cambridge program for the next year! This was a child who was receiving in-school reading coaching and private tutoring, and he was now moving into a more advanced class. If the reduction of tantrums in his brother wasn’t enough, I was now a believer that a screen fast had been a great decision for our family.
We forgot what life with screens looked like—and just how bad it was.
I didn’t begin this journey believing that my children would be screen-free for life—I figured that we would “fast” from this damaging technology for a little while, reset their brains, and then reintroduce the screens in moderation. I researched what the American Academy of Pediatrics said about screen time and school-aged children and began to think about rewarding the children for their progress by giving them back their screens.
An hour or two playing video games at a party wouldn’t hurt our screen-free progress… right?
I never wanted to be a mean parent who never let her kid play a video game. So, when my kids were invited to go to Chuck E. Cheese, I acquiesced. I figured an hour or two playing video games wouldn’t hurt, right?
In just a little over an hour, my youngest son was reduced to an angry pile of tears in the parking lot of the arcade. He refused to leave when it was time to go, and he violently thrashed his arms and legs whenever I tried to pick him up. My older son and I had to sit in the parked car while people walked by staring at my younger son in a writhing pile of tears on the blacktop. It took hours to calm him down and days for our lives to return to normal.
In another weak moment on my part, I allowed the boys to play video games at a playdate. When I loaded my boys into the car, they were fighting and hurling obscenities to each other. That night, they went to bed angry and resentful that they didn’t have gaming systems in their rooms like their friend.
When I began this journey, I was sure that I would give my children back their devices when things had settled down. I would be one of those parents who moderated their children’s time on their screens. Everything in moderation, I would say.
I was convinced that there was no moderation when it came to screens and my kids.
This experience convinced me that there was no moderation when it came to screens and my children. There was something in those games, something with my kids’ brains, or the combination of the two that made them addictive and destructive.
Our lives were better without screens.
Our family has been screen-free for three years…and counting.
We have been screen free for three years and counting, and now, when our children ask if they can go to an arcade or a playdate where there are screens, we say, “When it comes to *insert name of video game or device here*, our answer is NO.”
We only had to repeat it about a hundred times before they stopped asking.
But the good news is, our answer is YES to the following activities that are even more fun:
- Building Campfires
- Riding Bikes
- Making S’mores
- Building Tree Houses
- Playing Tag at the Park
- Walking the Dog
- Reading Together
- Playing Soccer in the Backyard
- Going to the Beach
- Having Friends Over
- Playing Board Games
- Science Projects
- Art Projects
- Throwing Rocks
- Climbing Trees
Every day, we add to the list of fun things that we can do without screens.
And now, we do them together. Taking screens away from my kids changed MY life. I watch less TV, work more, and have better relationships with my family. If you are considering removing screens from your children, I would encourage you to JUST DO IT! Consider going through the ScreenStrong Challenge to reclaim your kids from the virtual world and reconnect your family.