For many of us, screen time all too easily invades our family time. Even when many families are together, they are still focusing on screens – whether it is checking messages, or using the ever-popular movie night as a way to spend time together. But what if screens weren’t an option? What could your family accomplish?
National Screen-Free Week 2015 is an international celebration encouraging children, families, schools, and communities to spend seven days turning off digital entertainment. The week officially kicks off on May 4, but you don’t have to wait until then to start instituting screen-free time at your house.
Screen-free time can serve as a reset button for your family – a week with no TVs, iPhones, iPads, video games, or any other forms of digital entertainment can bring you the much-needed extra time to reconnect emotionally as a family as well as work on some ongoing goals in your household.
Here’s how to make the most of Screen Free Week for your family.
Finding your screen-free mission
If you have a child that is especially screen oriented, or if screens are a way that your family spends time and grows together, Screen-Free Week could be especially hard for you. That’s where setting a goal and having a reward can help! Come up with a Screen-Free Week Mission Statement and agree to it as a family, then treat yourself at the end of the week to celebrate your accomplishments.
Remember, the goal of Screen-Free Week shouldn’t be to simply “give up screens for a week.” You are giving up screens for a week in order to replace them with something positive. Keeping an end-goal in mind throughout the week will help you stand strong in your resolve — because kids are going to balk and protest when their favorite show comes on, or they want to play their favorite game.
Picking the right goal for your family
When determining your Screen-Free Week goal, pinpoint something that you’re not satisfied with within your family, and look into how screens have a negative impact. Your family goal should then be centered around changing this problem, not just giving up screens for a specific amount of time.
Maybe you want your family to be more active. If so, then the goal could be to use what is usually screen time to hike a few miles during the week. Or, maybe you need to have the kids read more — the goal could be to read a set number of books over the course of the week together and separately.
No matter what you choose, remember to take into account that the goal needs to be fun for the kids. For example, my kids like helping me make treats (and eating them!), so one of our goals could be to use our screen time trying out new cookie recipes. Letting your kids participate in choosing the goal will help motivate them and create lasting change.
Still not sure of a great goal? Volunteering your time to serve others is always a great one! Plan out a different service activity for each night of the week. And of course, the more relevant the service is to your kids’ interests, the better. My son has an interest in pursuing the military, so during our no-screen time, he could volunteer in a way that serves troops near or far.
One important note here that I can’t stress enough – it starts with you! As a parent, you need to put your phone down and engage just as much as the kids. Lead by example!
Start weaning the kids off of screen time ahead of time
To help ease the transition into Screen-Free Week, begin limiting screen time several weeks in advance. Start by making small swaps; instead of family movie night, have family game night. Instead of a trip to the movies, head to the park.
If your children are using screen time leisurely for a half hour each night, start by taking the screens away after 20 minutes, then 15, 10, and so on until you’re ready to go screen-free.
During this transition, start cataloguing what screen time looks like for your family and monitoring it. Keep a journal of when you use screens, for what purpose, and for how long. This will help you learn the difference between good and bad screen time, and will equip you to make decisions of when it is and isn’t appropriate to use screens in the future.
As we say in my house, “communicate early, communicate often.” Manage your family’s expectations and introduce the idea of Screen-Free Week as early as you can, and then repeatedly bring it up as it approaches.
This will show your family what the purpose behind this activity is, and even help them understand the positive and negative impacts of screen time. Call a family meeting and brainstorm how screens could be negatively impacting your home, and let them suggest ways to overcome the struggles as a family. Discussing it will help gain their trust.
Taking the Daniel Fast Approach to Screen-Free Week
As I mentioned earlier, Screen-Free Week starts with you, the parent. If you’re unable to put down your phone, your kids won’t be able to, either. But we all know that in today’s world, some of us parents need our devices for work, or the kids need to use them for a school assignment or need a device for medical reasons.
If that’s the case in your house, I recommend amending your goal of eliminating screen time completely, and using Daniel 1:8-14 as inspiration to reshape Screen-Free Week.
Daniel was excused from eating the rich meat and drinking the wine of Babylon to abide by Mosaic Law, so he instead ate lighter vegetables and fruits. Today, a “Daniel Fast,” is known as a way to sacrifice, but not fast all together. To relate this to Screen-Free Week, set a rule that screens are only allowed for school or work, and devices are all off from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
Use this and the suggestions above to ensure that your approach to limiting screen time makes improvements that last much longer than a week!