When the official Screen Free Week rolled around this year I was excited. I had never done a Screen Free Week before, but I was sure I would rock it and be able to soon offer some Screen Free Week Tips!
Screen Free Week is and annual event held at the beginning of May every year. It is a program of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and is endorsed by many other organizations.
It’s kind of a big deal.
My kids don’t watch a ton of TV, but I know that there are real benefits to having some unplugged time.
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t read some new article about how our society has too much screen time. Of course, I’m almost always reading that new article about how much screen time we have on my phone…
I wanted to use this year’s Screen Free Week to jumpstart a more unplugged summer.
As a book lover, I thought, “We do have too much screen time! We need more book time. Books solve everything. I even read chapter books to my toddler. We’ll do Screen Free Week!”
I was not at all concerned about giving up our screens for a week. My thoughts were, “This is going to be great! I’m going to read more to the kids! I’m going to do fun book related activities with them! I’m going to take them outside more! We’re going to knock this out of the park!”
Yeah, not so much.
Screen Free Week this year was a total disaster!
At first, I wanted to blame the kids.
“Those kids and their addiction to entertainment! This is what I’ve heard about on the news,” I thought to myself.
But then I started to think about how the week went, and realized the kids hadn’t begged to watch TV. They never refused to play outside when I suggested it. So who was to blame for our epic failure at unplugging?
I was really disappointed to realize I was the problem.
I’m not the greatest at acknowledging when I mess up, so it took me an embarrassingly long time to come to the conclusion that I had set us up for failure from the start.
Now, I see exactly what mistakes I made that sabotaged what should have been a good week of unplugging. Learn from my mistakes, and have a better screen free week than we did!
5 Things I Did That Made Our Screen Free Week Fail:
1. I didn’t put up a physical reminder that we were going screen free.
You would think that I could remember something so simple as “We aren’t watching TV this week.”
I mean, I remember almost everything else, from the fact that we are down to 2 rolls of paper towels, to the names of all of the kids at swim lessons. Still, all that great mom-memory, and I could not remember to keep the electronics powered down!
I kept slipping up! When I stumbled downstairs in the morning, it was second nature to turn on what my kids call “morning show.” Then I’d remember when the kids had watched the first six minutes of a 30 minute program, and it was too late. I wasn’t going to make them stop watching just because I couldn’t remember the TV was off limits.
I wish I had either taken the TV out to the garage, or put caution tape over it. I should also have covered the space with a piece of poster board with a giant list of other activities to do instead of screen time.
Next time, I’m going to put up a physical reminder that we are not watching TV.
2. I didn’t plan for other activities to fill the normal screen time.
Our kids don’t have much screen time. They watch a cartoon after breakfast, my son does 15 minutes of an app if he does all of his schoolwork, and we watch America’s Funniest Home Videos on Sunday evenings.
Of course, there’s the occasional rainy day movie or sick day cartoon marathon, but as far as regular screen time, that’s all they get. It doesn’t sound like that much time, right?
I figured we’d just cut the screens out and that would mean 45 extra minutes to play. That’s barely any extra effort, right?
I was so wrong!
While it’s true that it’s not that much time, it’s time the kids expect and I relied on. They are used to every day getting that morning show and afternoon app time.
I hadn’t realized that the reason my little man powered through his schoolwork every day was because he wanted to play his app. With no more app, the incentive to finish schoolwork was gone. Without that carrot dangling in front of him, he was a lot less keen to do those worksheets.
It would have been easier to be scree-free if I had come up in advance a reward for getting schoolwork done. That way he would have known that he got water balloons or something like that instead of the app, so he wouldn’t whine for the tablet, that he rightly expected after he did his work.
I also did not think about the fact that our morning routine depends on their 30 minutes of down-time in front of a show every morning. That’s when I get dressed, drink a little coffee, go over the schedule for the day, and chill out for a hot second before the day gets going.
With no morning show, the kids hung all over me asking what on earth they are supposed to do after breakfast. This was not ok, as I normally enjoy 45 seconds to brush my teeth in peace.
My kids normally play independently very well, but that is when they know it is expected of them, and they know how long it will last. With the anticipated morning show gone, they definitely felt the disruption to their morning schedule. That meant that the kids looked to me to fill that extra time.
If I had just had a plan in place, and said something like, “Instead of a show, this week after breakfast you will color pictures for Gramma and Bumpa, while you listen to a new audio book,” it would have gone much better.
Next time, I’m going to plan specific, easy, fun activities to take the place of the screen time that is built into our everyday schedule.
3. I underestimated my own attachment to screens.
I went into the week thinking, “Oh, this is going to be so hard for the kids. It’s a good thing I’m such a strong, disciplined person, who will have no problem giving up all screens for the next few days. I can help them through this.”
Yeah, I was wrong. I’m so weak.
I caught myself going for my phone for a quick check of who-knows-what so many times a day. Then I found myself justifying the time I scrolled through something on my phone. I thought things like, “I have to know what the weather is going to be like this evening.”
Or, “Email is the only way they can contact me!”
And, “The kids are sleeping. Surely Instagram after the kids go to bed doesn’t count as screen time. It’s basically like socializing with good friends.”
First, no, it’s not.
Second, ugh, I’m so disgusted by my own addiction to screens!
I didn’t really consider myself that much of a screen junkie because I do a good job of staying away from screens when the kids are up and around. But, when they were doing quiet time or sleeping, it was hard to stay off of my phone or computer. Honestly, I didn’t try too hard to fight the urge, and I ended up cheating on Screen Free Week a lot.
Since the debacle of our attempt at unplugging, I’ve changed my phone to grayscale instead of color. Without all of the bright colors, I don’t get that shot of dopamine when I look at the screen. It’s actually helped a lot. I wish I had done it before we started!
I have an iPhone, so if you have one, too, you can use these steps to turn the colors off on your phone. Of course, this is assuming that you also struggle with phone addiction – I’m really hoping I’m not the only one!
To turn your iPhone to grayscale, go to Settings, then General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. Switch Color Filters to on. Then select Grayscale.
I like to be able to switch between gray and color because I take a lot of pictures on my phone. To do that, you can go to Settings, then General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut. (Accessibility Shortcut is WAY at the bottom, you have to scroll down to get to it.)
Then, click so there is a check mark next to Color Filters. Now, when you press the home button three times the display will switch between grayscale and color.
I don’t have an Android phone, but I know you can also make an Android display only grayscale.
One good thing that came out of our disastrous Screen Free Week is that I recognized my social media habit. Now, I’ve taken all of the social media apps off of my phone, and I don’t miss them. Instagram doesn’t look that great when your phone is in gray scale, anyway. I really should have done that before the week started, though!
I also should have come up with some incentive to keep me off of my devices. If I’m going to resist the temptation to see what celebrities are saying on Twitter, it better be for something good.
Obviously, “because it is good for you,” was not enough of an incentive for me. I want something real, like a pedicure or a trip to Target.
Next time, I am going to be prepared for how hard it is for me to give up my devices.
4. I didn’t define our family’s rules for what we would give up before we started.
I read a lot of books on a screen because our library has amazing apps. If I’m going to check out a grown up book from the library, it’s going to be on an app, because then I never have to remember to take the book back. It’s incredible.
So, does reading library books violate a screen-free week? I don’t know, because I never thought about it until the week started!
Also, I have lots of stuff I need to do for the blog every week. Does that stop because we are committed to a time of no-screens? Who knows?!? Not me, because I didn’t bother to think about it before declaring that we were taking part in Screen Free Week.
What about FaceTime and Skype? My kids FaceTime my parents all of the time. Are we supposed to cut that out and make everyone hate me? I didn’t consider that one.
For us, I want to decrease the mindless consumption of entertainment on a screen. That will mean we’ll still allow FaceTime and books or music on devices. That’s what I think right now, but it might change as we approach a time of unplugging. No matter what we decide, though, I know it will be helpful for us to decide ahead of time.
Next time, I’m going to sit down with my husband before we commit to something like this to decide what “counts” for our family.
5. I went it alone.
Let’s be honest, I thought it would be easy. I didn’t plan ahead. I didn’t seek out like-minded moms so someone would hold me accountable. I didn’t set up playdates at screen free locations.
I only searched “screen free week” on Pinterest after it was too late for us…
I hope you see the irony that I turned to Pinterest during Screen Free Week to save my failure at Screen Free Week.
Now I know better. I should have done some preparation. I should have told some people what we were doing so that I would be accountable to somebody. I should have read more about the challenges and suggestions for how to unplug well.
Next time, I’m going to find some support and advice, either in real life or online, from moms who are also going screen free.
A Successful Screen Free Week is Possible!
Those 5 things I did were my big mistakes. The ways to have a successful Screen Free Week seem so obvious now, but they weren’t at the time.
For now, we’re back to normal (except for the whole gray phone thing). I feel comfortable about my kids’ limited screen time, and that’s a good place to be.
It is good to unplug sometimes, though, and I think we’ll be trying that again soon. Honestly, I’m not too worried about next time we attempt to go screen free. It can’t really go much worse than it did this time around!
And, next time around, I’m not going to make all of these mistakes!