I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
October 6, 2015
As most of you know, we recently put my eight-year-old son ‘Bruiser’ on an electronic fast for an entire week.
That meant no television (except for our weekly Family Movie Night). No iPad. No iPhone. No video games. No computer (unless he was working on his ‘novel’). Nothing. Nada. Nilch. (Yes, I realize that nilch is not technically a word, but it works for me!)
After I wrote a post about our plans, I got lots of questions from moms at my son’s school, at the library, at the YMCA, at the grocery, and in my neighborhood, all wanting to know how the electronic fast went.
Apparently, I’m not the only one whose son has a troubling obsession with screen time.
The short answer is this: It went great. But it certainly didn’t go exactly as I had expected.
To give you a little background, we had previously been limiting my son’s screen time to two hours per day– This rule initially seemed like a fair and reasonable solution, but in practice, it was starting to drive me crazy. I had hoped that setting time limits would force Bruiser to find other, non-screeny things to do– Instead, he would typically spend 30 minutes on a screen and then spend the next 30 minutes either talking about what he was going to play/watch next or complaining about the screen time rules. Spread that out over a 4-hour time period and you end up with one totally stressed out, crazy-eyed… me.
Taking away screen time altogether solved this problem in an unexpected way. As it turned out, Bruiser didn’t just need a break from screen time– he needed the looming possibility of screen time taken away as well. He needed long stretches of time with absolutely no screen time in sight. The electronic fast made that happen, and that’s when things finally started to change.
Bruiser, of course, complained vociferously when I announced that we were cutting off electronics for an entire week– but the complaints and the mopey attitude didn’t last nearly as long as I thought they would. Within an hour of arriving home after the first day of school, he realized that the no screen time thing was really happening and I wasn’t changing my mind– Once that was established, he hardly mentioned it again throughout the week. Instead, MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, he found other things to do.
LOTS of other things to do!
I started finding drawings and art projects around the house again.
But best of all?
I’ve always kept my son’s bookshelf filled with books that I hoped would pique his interest– He’s gone through them with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but to my disappointment, he hasn’t shown any signs of becoming a bookworm.
On the week of the electronic fast, books began filling the void that video games had left behind. My son began reading in earnest, blowing through the Captain Underpants series with laughter and enthusiasm and eagerly moving on to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books – with lots of almanac and encyclopedia-style kids’ books in between. (He’s a sucker for facts.) By the end of the week, two things happened that had never happened before: Bruiser asked to go to the library one day and the used bookstore the next. He even started waking up extra early so that he’d have time to read before school.
Of course, it wasn’t a 100% perfect experience. Every so often, Bruiser would remember his days of uninterrupted electronic bliss and become irritated. “Just so you know, whenever I can’t play video games for a long time, I become OBSESSED with my FAMILY!” he said accusingly one day.
Several days later, I bore the brunt of his no screen time rage once again. “The only reason I love to read now IS BECAUSE OF YOU!” he stormed.
“I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with the guilt,” I replied gravely.
Meanwhile, my husband was woken early several times that week and subjected to 6:30am rounds of UNO at the kitchen table. Let me tell you, there’s no UNO like 6:30am UNO.
But obviously, these were the kinds of glitches we were more than happy to handle. What really disappointed me about the experience was that the moment he was allowed to use electronics again, it was like this whole week of non-screen fun disappeared into the ether of his distant memory. He went right back to where he was before the fast. And that, for me, was a real letdown. I guess I was hoping that he’d have so much fun doing other stuff that he’d want to keep doing it, and electronics would never get out of control in this house again.
I can be pretty naive sometimes, huh?
The truth is that today’s video games are awesome— so awesome that it’s hard for anything else to compete for kids’ attention. I totally get why my son loves Super Mario Maker and LEGO Star Wars and Minecraft- These games allow him to create, discover, and explore without the limitations he faces as an eight-year-old in real life. And there are a lot of things about the games he plays that are good for him. Minecraft-style games encourage creativity, logic, and innovation. Two-player games like the LEGO series have helped my son and daughter practice their cooperation skills as they work together to complete tasks. Many of the Wii and XBOX Kinect games my son plays involve physical movement, which can be a good way for him to get some exercise on a cold or rainy day.
But it’s my job to make sure that he plays these games in moderation. He simply can’t figure out how much is too much on his own right now– and that means that my husband and I have to do it for him.
And so, we decided that the electronic fast would continue– on week days, anyway. Between Monday and Friday, my son is screen time-free. On the weekends, he has screen time, but he knows that he needs to break it up with other activities. And so far, it’s working for us.
Want to try an electronic fast on your kids? Here are a few tips I learned from my experience:
-Plan ahead and try to keep your child busy. The easiest and most organic way to keep your child off screens is to make sure he has so much to do that there’s no time for them. I’ve tried to plan one after-school activity for my son each day, whether it’s soccer or trumpet practice, chess club, a hike in the park, or a trip to the library.
-Come up with a list of things for your child to do, and be prepared to do at least some of them with your child each day. I told my son I’d do one activity (like a board game or reading a book together) each day, but I made sure he also knew that he’d have to find things to do on his own as well. This has worked well for both of us. I also planned ahead and got out art supplies and books on how to draw (He loves drawing, cutting, and gluing, and coloring.), as well as games and toys he hadn’t played with in a while.
-Have a long-term plan. Now that we’ve limited screen time for several weeks, my son is starting to choose other non-screen activities even when he’s allowed to have screen time– but not as often as I’d like. A one-week (or more) electronic fast can be a great idea, but it’s not going to permanently solve your child’s screen time issues.
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We’re facing this problem with our five year old son. So, my husband is a geek. He loves his electronics. He works in the IT field. He could not wait to share his love of video games with his sons. I could wait a VERY long time, thank you. But I lost that battle. And now our five year old is obsessed with the X-Box. And his attitude about it sucks. This is why I didn’t want him exposed to video games yet. He’s too young to know moderation. I think I might suggest the “no games on weekdays” method. I’m sure there will be screaming fits and tears and lots of stomping of the little five year old feet, but something’s gotta give.
I did this with my 2 children. By the time we get home and do dinner and homework there was not a lot of time anyway but now they know the option is gone completely. The best thing is that it will carry over to Saturday morning as long as the TV does not get turned on they wont even realize they are missing it.
[…] The good news, though, is that we know the culprit (technology), the bad news is we don’t want to punish it. However, there are solutions such as undergoing an “electronic fast”. […]