I Made My Daughter Go 'Screen-Free' & It Drove Our Family Apart

board game Sorry

When I signed my family up for Screen-Free Week, I knew there would be friction. I'm raising a kid in a time when 8 to 18-year-olds spend an estimated 75 percent of their time connected to some sort of gadget. Telling my 8-year-old she couldn't watch TV, play on her laptop, or touch her Kindle for an entire week was going to be a hard sell.

But I'd be lying if I didn't admit I was caught up in the mystical promise that forcing my family to "unplug" would bring us all together and make us closer. After all, that's what the folks behind Screen-Free Week promise ... that by getting rid of gadgets for seven days, our kids will be "turning OFF digital entertainment and turning ON life."

So, did it happen?

In a word ... no.

It didn't bring my family together. If anything, last week we spent more disconnected than usual!

Now, now, I'm not going to say that Screen-Free Week was a total bust.

After trying to wheedle her way out of the deal -- "You told me this would start Friday, not Monday!" and similar claims -- my daughter settled right into a world free of digital media. She spent a lot of the week outside in the sunshine, cuddled up on her bed reading, or in her playroom, engaging her creative mind in building LEGO worlds. All good things!

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And there was time with us -- my husband played soccer with her one night while I made dinner; played basketball with her another evening while I finished up my work day; and I played more than a few rousing games of Connect Four and Sorry. We went out to eat as a family, and we did a few other odds and ends. My husband and I made an effort to engage with our daughter.

But the big change I noticed last week was that we weren't gathering together in the evenings in our living room -- after dinner is made and homework done -- as we normally do. By and large, we were all splitting off in various directions.

Now, maybe a bit of that was the nice weather. Screen-Free Week coincided with a series of warm evenings and, of course, the benefit of Daylight Saving Time. She could swing out on her swings until it was time for shower and bed in a way she couldn't just a week prior.

But even on days when it poured -- and there were several -- my 8-year-old didn't come to hang out with her parents in the living room. She wanted to do her own thing, be it with books or LEGOs. She would disappear for hours, closing the door behind her, like the teenager she will be all too soon.

And I'll admit it: I missed her. I missed talking about her day.

Because the TV playing our living room in the evenings -- we watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune most nights as a family -- isn't just an idiot box we all stare at like zombies. It has drawing power, sure. But once we're in the same room, we tend to talk, often (almost always in the 8-year-old's case) talking over the television. The TV becomes mere background noise.

I've found that my kid who once clammed up like a CIA operative when asked about her day is more willing to open up when the focus isn't solely on her -- a tip I got from a mom who would talk to her kid about her day on the car ride home from school, when her daughter didn't feel like she was on-the-spot because she didn't have to look Mom in the eye. My husband has found the same benefit when they play video games together. Both have their eyes on the screen, but they talk ... REALLY TALK ... to one another while playing.

Without the TV to bring her into the room, she was unplugged from the digital life for the week, but she also seemed a bit unplugged from us.

I'm not sorry we tried Screen-Free Week, nor will I stop trying to find a balance between letting her use digital media and keeping her away from it. But I'm not going to lie: cutting the cords was no magic pill for my family. It didn't suddenly make turn us into the Waltons.

Screens are part of our cultural landscape now, and rather than avoid them -- we parents need to figure out how to make them work FOR our families, rather than against us.

How do you balance screen time in your home?

 

Image by Jeanne Sager

 

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