The Benefits of Giving Your Child a Screen Free Week

We just completed another screen free week, something we do at least five or six times a year.

We already have pretty strong boundaries when it comes to screen usage for Little Cat (aged 4), before this week he was only allowed cartoons for up to an hour, usually between 3-5 days a week and always in the afternoon, just after lunch for a bit of quiet time. The cartoons and films he has access to are all things which I am happy for him to watch: No violence or cruelty, respectful attitudes towards children and adults alike, slow paced (with the exception of Octonauts) and/or educational in some way or another.

He doesn’t have use of a tablet or computer, no apps or video games and no access to the internet unless we are specifically looking something up together – For example when he was interested in volcanoes recently we watched several youtube clips of erupting volcanoes and looked up some answers to his questions, before we got a book from the library for him to delve into.

During screen free week we had no screen time whatsoever during the day, myself included. I made an exception during the evening after his bedtime, to have a quick check of my emails to make sure there wasn’t anything urgent, but anything that could wait was left unopened. I also decided to relax the TV rule for the evening as my husband didn’t participate with this screen free week (although he often does,) and we watched one or two programmes together.

My main goal for myself was to have a week off social media, especially facebook which I find can be such a time thief and so addictive. My goal for my son on this occasion was for him to break the habit of asking for TV on autopilot straight after lunch, and to give him more room to rediscover creative ways to entertain himself instead.

As always happens on our screen free weeks, the first day was the hardest, with complaints and negotiations from Little Cat and an afternoon energy slump from me which was a struggle to get through.

But from the second day, I changed our routine which made a massive difference. We usually go out in the morning and have afternoons at home, but instead, we stayed home and played in the morning and ventured out straight after lunch. Because we never have TV in the mornings, he didn’t even think to ask, and then being out, even if it was only for an hour or two, was enough to break the habit of the TV crutch.

He had several days where he didn’t ask at all, one or two where he mentioned it in passing, and once where he wanted to discuss why it is a good idea to have a break from screens. He was remarkably understanding about it, this becoming a regular habit for our family, and instead of pining, he used his time to really delve into his passions.

He began asking more and more about his two favourite topics of the moment: The Titanic and submarines, and decided that his ambition was to design and make a submarine of his own which he could take down to the Titanic wreckage and look through what remains. His entrepreneurial skills emerged when he decided that he would find all the clothes people had left on the ship, bring them up, wash and dry them (in Costa Rica!) and then sell them to other people who wanted them.

He borrowed a non fiction (adult) book about the Titanic from his Grandad, and spent hours pouring over the pictures and asking me to read him sections.

He made dens, he built wooden substations and asked questions about electricity. He role played being a puppy, dressed up as a cat, played with Lego, went for walks, invented new machines and we read and read and read.

And me?

After the first day I didn’t miss facebook one little bit. I realised that I use it as a crutch when I’m trying to escape from real life. When I’m tired and irritable and don’t want to face my responsibilities, I check out. I stare mindlessly at the screen, reading snippets of information from people I barely know. I enter into discussions for no reason other than because I am otherwise bored. I use it to zone out, and that is not healthy.

Without my phone in my hand, I actually forgot to look at it for most of the day, except to talk to my husband on his lunch break. I too read a lot. I had so many ideas. I wrote several drafts for chapters for a future book.

I had so much energy in the evenings that I would be able to spend several hours working on the illustrations for my upcoming children’s picture book, Misunderstood Monster. I felt alive and creatively satisfied and I could see the energy buzzing through my son too.

The day our screen free week ended I didn’t want it to be over. LC didn’t ask about TV, so I didn’t mention in. I finally logged into facebook once he had gone to bed, and realised I hadn’t missed anything of importance. Life had gone on without me, and everyone was just fine. My page followers hadn’t deserted me, my family and friends were still in my life. The world did indeed keep turning.

A week on and Little Cat has made a surprising development. I decided not to mention that screen free week was over, but instead just let things progress naturally. He has watched a couple of short Christmas films and today he asked for a cartoon and said “I’ll just have one or two though, as it’s not good for me to have lots!” He finished his cartoon and switched off the TV, returning to his Lego with talk of the den he planned to make with Daddy this evening.

I doubt we will have very much screen time at all over the Christmas week, and I’m determined not to let it creep back in, because I don’t want to see that creative energy and lust for life he is buzzing with dimmed in any way. I don’t want to watch him become a zombie. I love seeing how he uses his initiative to find something to fill his time, how his mind has been overflowing with a thirst for knowledge and answers.

I can’t see any negatives to cutting out or at least drastically reducing screen time in ALL of our lives. I know I’m going to be making some big changes personally.

Why not give it a go and see what you discover?

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