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Monday, January 24, 2011

Screenless Sundays

Lately, I've been concerned about the amount of time our kids spend riveted to some kind of electronic screen or device. Our kids have videogames for computers and gaming systems like the Wii, Gamecube, and Nintendo DS; when play time is limited by MOM (aka mean old mom) on those systems, everyone immediately turns to TV and/or movies. We set limits on TV screen time as well as game time; we also insist on homework being done before screens are allowed. No screens come on in the morning before school and all screens go dark at 8pm each school night. In other words, we try...but especially on snow days and long winter weekends, it still seems there are multiple screens on all day long. Don't even get me started on the amount of time they spend texting with friends on their cell phones...that's something else we've had to limit. (In the interest of fairness, Dad and Mom are also pretty hooked on our screens and phones as well so we probably don't set the best example.) I was really struck by how far out of whack things had gotten one day last week when I looked across the room and saw my 3 boys "multi-tasking" in a disturbing way. They were surfing the net on Dad's computer while also watching TV while also playing a Nintendo DS game together...and I knew something had to change...but I was at a loss as to what that would be.

It's somewhat ironic that the catalyst for change arrived via the news application on my spiffy new Android phone. (OK, so Mom has a tiny little Android addiction going on, too.) While I was waiting for the kids to be dismissed from school one day, I came upon this story:

Mom unplugs teens and they survive 
By BETH J. HARPAZ, The Associated Press

Susan Maushart lived out every parent’s fantasy: She unplugged her teenagers.

For six months, she took away the Internet, TV, iPods, cell phones and video games. The eerie glow of screens stopped lighting up the family room. Electronic devices no longer chirped through the night like “evil crickets.” And she stopped carrying her iPhone into the bathroom.

The result of what she grandly calls “The Experiment” was more OMG than LOL — and nothing less than an immersion in RL (real life).

Thanks, Susan! You're an inspiration.

Turns out this woman has written a book (The Winter of Our Disconnect) about her family's "experiment" and how it improved their lives. I was so intrigued that I told Craig and the kids about it at the dinner table that night...and the kids (especially the boys) reacted in a way that was shocking. There was talk of mutiny if Mom and Dad ever tried to take away screens, threats of running away if videogames and cell phones were removed from their lives. In one case, there was a tearful hizzy fit about the injustice of it all. (Hmm...it appears that some of us have forgotten that screens are a privilege, not a God given right.) One of the girls was the sole voice of reason, warning the others that if they continued to fuss, it would only make Mom and Dad think maybe our family could stand to be unplugged. Bingo...that's exactly what Mom and Dad decided to do...but we live in a democracy (or maybe a benign dictatorship). Therefore, right there at the dinner table, amidst weeping and wailing and nashing of teeth but with eventual acceptance of the inevitable, a proposal to at least partially unplug the whole Risley-Schoelles clan was hammered out. Just like that, Screenless Sundays were born.

Yesterday was our first day with no screens. Per our agreement, that means the following:

  • No TV or Movies

  • No computers

  • No gaming systems

  • Cell phone use is limited to voice communication for an actual purpose (no texting)

    How did it go? Well, it was a bit rocky at first. The kids really like to turn on the TV first thing in the morning and Dad likes the Sunday Morning news program; neither happened and we all survived. Dad and the kids went to church which kept most of them busy. Mom drove Kate and her friend to the mall which kept them occupied. Kate was allowed to use her cell phone to call Mom when they needed a ride home. When the rest of the family came home, Aniyar had a hard time figuring out what to do with himself and was whiny until he was reminded that he got a new remote control car for his birthday that he could play with. (I know, it's still electronic...but at least it's not a screen.) Max and Madiyar accepted Mom's challenge to a game of Sorry (I'm not a lover of board games but desperate times call for desperate measures...and I couldn't blog, now could I?) We actually had a lot of fun...surprise, surprise! Then our friend Eileen came by to visit and offered to cut Tanya's hair, giving her a whole new look. That also gave Tanya some special attention and a chance to visit with her Auntie Eileen. The rest of the day was spent in similar fashion. Dinner was especially fun; the kids didn't gulp their food and run off to their screens per usual. Instead, they stayed at the table, joking and laughing, playing a fortune telling game. Max begged for a reprieve, asking for "...just TV, Mom! I need to watch TV soooo bad!!!" Hmmm....sounds like an addiction issue to me. The other kids hushed him, saying that if he kept talking, we might decide to add Screenless Other Days to our family calendar. I always said they were smart kids...quick learners, too.
    When the dinner dishes were cleared away, I helped kids with homework and studying for midterms. Madiyar asked for a needle and thread and sewed a rip in his backpack (The kid actually did a chore voluntarily, without threat of punishment???) Max read a book and Aniyar and Kate played cards. We spent a good hour listening to the kids tell stories of their memories of Kazakhstan...we read books, listened to music, and enjoyed each other. So can you guess what will now be a regular part of our family calendar? Craig and I already see the results of unplugging not just the kids but ourselves as well. We're committed to doing something fun as a family each Sunday afternoon from now on...sans screens, unplugged but more connected to each other.
    Just in case you couldn't tell, let me be clear what Mom thought of our little experiment:
    OMG, Screenless Sunday was XLNT!!!!


    farmbeachgal said...

    Love it, love it, love it! We have screen limitations as well, but in my mind it's never enough. Love the idea of an entire DAY without!

    alphamama said...

    Oh, Anne, the day without screens was heavenly. It was so peaceful, not the usual running from computer to TV to videogames that normally happens. The part I liked best was that the kids were all much more present, interacting with each other and with us instead of zoning out. We'll be screenless every Sunday for a while...and we're planning family activities like bowling, swimming at the YMCA, cooking together,etc. instead.