What Screen-Free Week Looked Like for Our Family
Keeping families connected with a safe phone
Cell phones, including cell phones for kids, are a lot like power tools: Both can be used to build or to demolish.
Screen-Free Week is the first week of May, which means our kids are always still in school, and as the parents of five, we’re usually deep in the throes of calendaring end-of-the-year activities.
During Screen-Free Week last week we had the SAT test, Prom, dance rehearsals (x3 girls), voice lessons, parkour, an orthodontist appointment, and piano lessons on top of our full time work schedules.
While we often take several off-the-grid camping adventures in the summer, we are typically tied to our screens during the school year for work and school.
My husband works a full-time job as a software engineer, which means our family’s livelihood relies on coding on a screen. Since I run my own business, I have more control over my screen use, but it’s the primary way I reach parents to share my message.
In other words, we understand how out of reach screen-free week might seem for busy families!
Since 2010, our friends at Fairplay have been encouraging families, schools, and communities to unplug in order to get back time and space for creative play and face-to-face relationships.
In our modern world, going completely screen-free may not be realistic for many families, but Screen-Free Week isn’t about counting minutes on a screen, it’s about choosing moments in real life.
3 Strategies to Go “Screen-Free”
Here are a few strategies that have helped us to celebrate, rather than circumvent, Screen-Free Week as a busy family:
- Prepare your family and your space.
- Say goodbye to optional technology for the week.
- Focus on non-screen activities during your “free” time.
Prepare Your Family and Your Space
You’ll first want to prepare your physical space. Your preparation might look different depending on your kids’ ages and your family’s tech habits. If portable devices are commonly used for entertainment, you’ll want to store them away for the week.
Replace screens with games, puzzles, books, instruments, balls, and outdoor activities. Place your family’s favorite things in plain sight so kids will naturally gravitate toward those activities instead!
Once you celebrate screen-free week, your kids will not be surprised when you announce a screen-free week the next time around. Chances are they’ll remember that you spent more time with them and were less distracted—they’ll be excited for the trade off!
Mindset is a huge part of preparing for a screen-free week. Why do you want to go screen-free? What are the benefits? You must know why you are doing this or you’ll lack motivation to make it happen.
The benefits are far-reaching for parents and kids…
- feeling more connected as a family
- finding time to finish projects or make plans
- clearing headspace to make room for goals, dreams, and wonder
- reconnecting with former hobbies
- discovering new passions
Are you convinced it’s worth it?
Say Goodbye to Optional Technology for the Week
Parents have to decide how they will celebrate screen-free week. Since you can’t give up using screens for work, how can you eliminate optional technology to make time for your family?
Optional technology is any kind of media that you can truly set aside and live without for one week. For me, that is social media. For another parent it might be reading the news, playing video games, or watching Netflix. You know what your default screen habits are!
I run my own social media account as a business owner, so this can be tricky, but I’ve walked away from social media for Screen-Free Week many times and never regretted it. I lose the need to check for DM’s, comments, and to post. It’s liberating! And it’s incredible how much time I get back.
Decide what your optional technologies are, then delete the associated apps off your phone or block the websites for the week.
We like to make a list with our kids of our favorite screen-free activities. Recently this has included Kubb, an outdoor game, riding bikes on a favorite local trail, baking together, and having a Black Out Night with lights off and screens away. This gives everyone something to look forward to rather than dreading missing our weekly Family Movie Night.
What did this look like for our family during Screen-Free Week?
- I went to my daughter’s voice lesson and my son’s Parkour class instead of waiting and working (on a screen!) in the car.
- I took my younger kids to the pool twice and got in the pool with them.
- I tried several new recipes and the kids jumped in and helped with dinner prep.
- I walked away from work for 15 minutes to jump on the trampoline with my kids.
- I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant and learned how to make homemade corn tortillas. Every time I went in for my favorite carne asada taco, the owner and I would chat about how someday I’d come in for a lesson. Walking away from optional tech gave me time to connect with my community and learn a new skill!
- We took a family hike and hit the wildflowers at their peak.
- Helped my 10-year-old son organize and tidy his room to make space for his plants.
- My husband and I had a sans-screens date night. We took our time going out to dinner and lingered much longer than usual at the restaurant, chatting about our goals and funny stories from our past.
Six of the seven screen-free days were extremely rainy here in the Pacific Northwest. It would have been easy to have given up–especially on a cool, rainy Friday night when our default activity is a movie and popcorn when it’s cold and dark outside. But we turned off all the lights, lit the candles, turned on the fairy lights, and pulled out our Black Out Night box full of screen-free ideas.
We played the Davis Family Game Show where my husband is the emcee, complete with an afro wig and stuffed snake around his neck! Each member of the family has to pass their own intellectual, physical, and other random category test. There is always a lot of laughter and silliness! We then had a dance contest and played Telestrations.
Our oldest teen was even apologetic when she had to leave halfway through our Blackout Night to go hang out with friends. She didn’t want to miss out!
That’s the power of building screen-free rituals from the time your kids are young. Having screen-free time can become a part of your family culture.
Going Screen-Free Can Be Pain-Free
The reality is, going screen-free will likely never be easy or just happen. In a tech-tethered world, we have to make an effort to experience the joys of screen-free life.
As you build regular screen-free, (or “screen-light” weeks as we sometimes call them!), your family will learn to rely less on screens for entertainment and to fill down time. Screen-free time will become pain-free.
Reaching for a book from the book basket, a game off the shelf, the football in the backyard, or the ingredients for a recipe will become the default, rather than reaching for a screen. Kids who know what to do with boredom and white space grow into teens with skills and a strong sense of self, who then become adults who make meaningful contributions to the world and their families.
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