A week-long experiment in a life without devices...
“Are you actually mad?” says every parent friend we tell. “You're giving up screens for a week? Are you out of your minds?!”
Yes. Yes, we are.
But we’re doing it anyway because we need to. Life in our house has started to revolve around screens: the glowing rectangles of terror that steal our time and destroy our sanity.
Our children’s default mode is staring at a screen. They wake up and start playing on Minecraft. They come home from school and turn on a tablet. When we call them in for tea it involves half an hour’s negotiation about completing levels and finishing episodes. Wholesome it is not.
For my own part, I waste hours staring at social media, or scrolling through the news. Mornings and evenings are worst, but also after school and many times throughout the day I realise I’ve definitely not being doing what I should be doing and have instead been wasting my life on the internet. It doesn’t even make me happy.
Something needs to change.
A screen-break for seven days seems like a good start. And for added momentum we’ve decided to do it as a sponsored event, to make it a bit more bearable for the kids and also to do A Good Thing. We’re raising money for Young Minds, a mental health charity for kids, which seems appropriate.
The kids spring out of bed at the crack of dawn, full of life and joy. Then they remember that telly and tablets are off the breakfast menu and there’s suddenly a bit less joy in the house. Usually we rely on Minecraft to give us 30 minutes’ extra sleep, but today the kids insist we get up with them because ‘they don’t know what to do and it feels weird’.
And it IS weird. I can’t function until I’ve had at least two cups of tea in the morning, which I usually drink reading the news and scrolling through social media. People know to leave grumpy Mummy alone. But today I drink my tea looking out of the window and chatting about homework, which is actually quite nice, although on several occasions I catch myself absent-mindedly reaching to my back pocket to slide out my phone, which I note with interest.
Meanwhile, the kids have stopped complaining as much and are making an almighty mess with the craft box. But it’s good mess, so I leave them to it.
The day passes and I manage to get a whole lot done without the distraction of social media. I’ve closed all the tabs on my laptop (which is the exception to the rule because it’s for work) and I relish having a browser without 80 tabs open.
The kids complain again after school but go upstairs to play Lego and re-emerge dressed as ninjas, complete with lego swords and other scarily accurate weapons. Well, whatever works I guess.
*blocked out of my memory because it was just too horrendous*
Stuff feels different this morning. There’s a distinct lack of moaning as we go downstairs and we have a lovely conversation with the kids while we’re sitting having breakfast. I no longer care what’s happening on Facebook or Instagram. The kids seem happy to entertain themselves.
And then the sun comes out this afternoon, so I announce brightly to the kids that we’re going to do some weeding in the garden when we get home from school. “To get some fresh air!” I enthuse. This is, of course, met with eye rolls and sighs, but we bloody do it and the garden and drive look great afterwards. YES.
I go into town today to give blood and also to have the camera on my phone repaired. Usually the prospect of not having my phone for an extended period would seem very weird, but I feel like I’m getting used to it and I hand my phone over to the Apple guy without really feeling anything at all. On the way back to the car I realise I can’t look at the time or log my step-count or ring to say I’m on my way back, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m struck by how much we reply on our little pocket computers for EVERYTHING.
Disaster strikes this morning when our youngest’s class is closed due to an outbreak of Covid. This definitely isn’t part of the plan. Memories of home-schooling during lockdowns come flooding back as we wade through maths, English and reading. Stress levels rise.
I remember how giving kids extended screen-time was the only way I could get any work done or have any free time during those long, miserable months, which is how we all ended up addicted to screens in the first place. Perhaps it’s the universe giving me a timely reminder about why we’re doing this.
Now begins the real test: The Weekend. We bundle our youngest to her Saturday morning club and entertain our oldest with games and drawing before heading to football. Somehow it works.
We take the kids for pancakes in the afternoon as an edible high five for making it this far. They’re doing so much better than I thought they would and I feel dead proud.
This morning’s a good un. The kids know we’re on the home run and they’re happy. They excitedly plan what they’re going to build in Minecraft tomorrow while we have a family walk in the woods and it feels slightly like they’re missing the point, but there we are.
Our friends come round for pizzas this afternoon and there’s nary a mention of Mario, Minecraft or any other form of digital entertainment. The kids have a ginormous pillow fight upstairs, then make a den outside and it all feels very lovely.
We’ve made it.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – and when I’d broken the chain of feeling like I was missing out on stuff, it all felt very liberating. I’d forgotten how much you can get done if you don’t spend your life pointlessly staring at social media. I did paintings, writing and spent a lot more time chatting to the kids and doing stuff with them, which was ace.
The kids did amazingly. They knew there was no point complaining because there was no leeway, so they just got on with it like legends. I think our biggest realisation was how much *we* rely on the kids going on screens so we can have some downtime of our own, which was an unexpected and slightly frightening revelation.
Doing it for charity was a great motivating factor - and the kids were chuffed to bits with the total at the end. Thank you if you donated - it really helped get us through it!
And looking forward: RULES. Taking screens away for a week has made it loads easier to impose restrictions and it’s working well. I just hope to God there are no more lockdowns…
If you'd like to add to the FAB £190 we raise for Young Minds, you can do so by clicking here - and thanks!