National Screen-Free Week Survival Guide

By Darek Lester

Someone decided last week was “National Screen-free Week”. Now, I don’t know who this “someone” is, but I can tell this someone does not have kids. Or if they do they are 2 or 3 months old, or out of the house (or both). We tried to be screen free for a week. I will say that national screen free week may be screen free, but is definitely not “scream” free. Or whine free, either, for that matter (it’s bad when whining is the second worst thing on a list). But after a week, I can say the threats of bodily harm we received did not come to fruition, at least not as of this writing.

On Sunday of last week, my wife Karla informed me that this was “National Screen Free Week”. For I second I thought I might try to ignore her or change the subject to something less intimidating, like finding a solution to global warming. But she had that look in her eyes that told me this was going to happen (or maybe she was dyspeptic- they kind of are the same look). Now from experience I can tell you that simply telling the kids to stay off of their screens does not work. They may honestly try for a period of time (typically measured in seconds), but eventually the TV is on, pictures are posted on Instagram, YouTube videos are watched. So we decided to try a different tactic for this battle. We physically unplugged the TVs, unplugged the wireless router, unplugged the computers and unplugged the toilet (hey- that was also on the to-do list). I’m the only one who knows how any of that stuff is hooked up; it was a fool-proof plan. Or so I thought. The enemy had some tactics of their own…

Day 1 was a bit rough. Well, a lot rough. Our youngest likes Minecraft. But not just playing Minecraft. Watching videos of people playing Minecraft. I’ll never get that. Wasting time playing a video game is bad enough, but you are wasting time watching someone else wasting time playing a video game? I thought about making a video of him watching a video of someone playing Minecraft and seeing how many YouTube hits it would get. I bet a lot. But beware if you get in the way of this video-video watching. He would try to get on the computer, and of course it didn’t work. So there would be a scream, a stomping out and an editorial review about screen free week (“I hate screen free week”) followed by a definitive proclamation (“I am not doing screen free week next year”). This was followed by some a kind of threat- either personal bodily harm or some sort of threat of damage to a household appliance (happily, no household appliances were harmed during the making of screen free week).

The girls are older and wiser. They know that throwing fits gets you nowhere. Actually, thinking about it, that’s not true and gives us too much parenting credit. There is a long list in our house where throwing a fit has clearly worked and worked quite well. I think they just matured on their own and now are more subtle. Their whine has “aged” (Ba-dum dum). “There’s nothing to do”. A suggestion might be made to go play outside. “Outside is boring”. Read a book. “Books are boring”. And on and on. It was pretty clear the entire world, other than screens, was boring. I thought to myself “I don’t know how long I can stand this. They are winning this battle.”

But a funny thing happened after a few days. It got easier. They adjusted to the screen free status of our home. Soon without prompting, they would find other things to do.   Luckily spring was in full force- I will say the “someone” who came up with screen-free week picked a good time of year. There was a ton playing outside with the neighbors, bike riding, and tennis (not sure how that happened as we are not a tennis family, but that became the sport de jour). Inside board games were resurrected, origami cranes were mastered and books were read. It was very nice. The kids just had to be reprogrammed. It is so easy in a moment of boredom to turn a screen on in our society. When they aren’t an option whatsoever, it’s amazing how we can quickly de-program that behavior. We have decided to try to have a couple of unplugged screen free days each week.

Don’t let my kids see this, but I have to say the only one who wasn’t totally screen free was myself. I couldn’t avoid checking my cell phone periodically for emails, sports scores, how my fantasy baseball team doing. I feel a little guilty. It was definitely less than typical, but thinking about it I wish I too had gone completely cold turkey. It’s such a habit, though. But, as they say in sports, there’s always next year.

As long as the threats from our youngest don’t come to fruition, that is.

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