Today's post has nothing to do with writing or books (though there is a book) or productivity, my usual suspects over here. Today is more about a personal challenge I'm taking on with my family. I mentioned what I'm doing online and a few people asked if I would blog about the process since they were worried about their kid's screen time/video game obsession/ipad dependence, too. So, I've decided to chronicle my attempt.
Today, I'm going to cover the basics of what we're doing, why we decided to do it, and what we've experienced so far (four days in.)
My goal is to have my 9-year-old son go the entire summer without playing video games or using any interactive device (ipad, computer, kindle fire, etc.). And though I'm using the term "screen-free" because it's easier, I'm not including TV as a banned device in our challenge because it's not "interactive", my kidlet's never been a big TV watcher, and the book I read said that TV doesn't effect kids' brains the same way interactive screens do. Though, obviously, I'm not going to undermine the challenge by parking him in front of a TV for hours.
We're not unlike most families these days. Electronic devices are the go to entertainment for our kiddo. At my house, if we want a moment to ourselves to get things done, the easiest way to get that time is for my son to be on his Xbox or playing on his iPad. It's easy, convenient entertainment, especially since he's an only child and has no built in playmates at home.
But as convenient as it is, over the past few months we've noticed some concerning things with kidlet. He already has some challenges to deal with. He's on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum and has a tic disorder that can flare up and bother him. So he doesn't need any extra hurdles. But lately, we've noticed that he's gotten more and more attached to the Xbox gaming than we'd like. He has school friends he plays with and chats with on there and that seems to be what triggered the new phase, moving it from something he enjoys to something he wants to do all the time above all other things.
Things he used to enjoy doing on his own and with the family all became secondary. Nothing was as interesting as playing Xbox. And when it was time to get off of the games, even with giving ten-minute warnings and such, triggered defiance, irritability, and just generally acting like a jerk, which is not his normal self. He's a very sweet kid. We also noticed his motor tics flaring up, which was what led me to the internet searching.
First, I found an article about environmental factors that can affect tics. And it mentioned how video games and devices can contribute to the problem and recommended a three-week electronic fast. The article was by Dr. Victoria Dunckley, the author of the book Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. So that led me down the rabbit hole. I bought the book and read it quickly. If you don't want to tackle a whole book on the topic, the doctor has written many articles for Psychology Today, including a basic overview called Screentime is Making Kids Moody, Crazy, and Lazy.
Here's a screenshot of the symptoms the doctor says are associated with too much screen time.
The articles and book were pretty eye-opening. And though some of it could be a little alarmist, and I tend to be pretty skeptical of that kind of tone, I also trust my gut and what I see with my own eyes. I could see my kid being affected--his mood, his behavior, his narrowing interests, etc. So I'm concerned enough to give it a shot. Taking electronics away for a "fast" is hard (really hard!), but it's not something that's going to harm him. It's a low-risk experiment. And if it ends up helping, it will be beyond worth it.
I want my kid to be well-rounded, healthy, social, and creative. If I had been glued to devices growing up and never bored, I wouldn't be a writer today. Boredom and being an only child led me to reading. Reading led me to writing a novel in high school. That planted a lifelong love of telling stories. And that has given me a career I love.
So, we're trying this to see if it helps some of the negative stuff we've been dealing with, but I'm also hoping it brings a lot of positive extras into his life (and our lives) as well.
Now, note, this is not a judge-y post. I'm not saying all parents should try this or criticizing anyone for letting their children have lots of screen time. I'm just sharing what we're doing and why. (Hell, I don't even know how long we'll last yet, lol.) So, no preaching, I promise.
Telling our kiddo: Once we decided we were going to give this screen-free summer thing a shot, my husband and I sat down with kidlet and explained to him that we wanted to do an experiment this summer. We did not want it to come across like a punishment. We told him that we had the chance to do all kinds of fun things this summer, but the Xbox and Ipad were getting in the way. We told him it was "tricking his brain" into wanting to play with them all the time and ignore other fun stuff. So we were going to do an experiment where we put those away for the summer and instead, we would schedule all this other fun stuff. We had a list of activities and ideas ready to go. (He was a little stunned but did not freak out or cry or anything. Maybe the shock stage, lol.)
The Calendar: The book recommended scheduling the fun activities on a calendar so a child could have a visual of what they were going to be doing. And the calendar also holds us, the parents, accountable. Because, let's face it, this fast is for kidlet but it also alters our lives dramatically too when it comes to our time. So after telling him, we went to Staples and got one of those desk calendars with lots of room in each space and came home to fill it in and decorate it. It's now hanging on a wall in our kitchen.
The activities: So kidlet goes to summer camp during the day since we both work full-time, so we mainly have to fill time in the evenings and on weekends. He's in guitar lessons and will be doing flag football later in the summer, so we have a few pre-scheduled things. But we needed simple, low-cost stuff for the other times. Here are some of the things we came up with:
- Board games/card games
- Movie nights complete with popcorn and snacks
- Outdoor activities (Frisbee, bike-riding, baseball/football, sidewalk chalk, sprinklers)
- Family walks or bike rides
- Library visits
- Arts & Crafts
- Cooking with mom (he likes to cook)
- Picking out a recipe from his kid's cookbook each week to cook
- Practicing guitar
- Playing outside with friends
- Family TV Shows (finding a few we can all watch together)
- Special Outings:
- Go Karts
- Putt PuttThen we gathered supplies and let him buy a few new things with some gift cards he still had.
I also wanted things for solo activities because he needs to entertain himself, too. So books (of course!), Where's Waldo, Word Searches, Mad Libs, crayons, etc.
Then we gathered supplies and let him buy a few new things with some gift cards he still had.
Four Days In
So we started the fast this past Friday. We did it on this weekend because we already had a lot planned with a NASCAR truck race and the Indy Car races. But it also involved staying in a hotel with some down time, which we'd normally rely on the Ipad to fill.
Here's how it's going...
Other observations over the last few days:
- A verbal tic that was affecting his speech a lot has subsided. Though, his motor tics are still in flare mode.
- He's been less irritable.
- Has gone back to asking questions about EVERYTHING, lol. Why is the sky blue type questions. My favorite from this weekend was "Is it a requirement to have a girlfriend in college?" Me: "no" Him: "But is it highly recommended?" Lol.
- He's been in a lovable mood. (Cuddly, saying "I love you" a lot)
- He hit a few periods of quiet, down mood. When he gets that urge to play and knows he can't, he gets a little sad.
- Periods of having an absolutely delightful mood (which had been absent lately)--giggly, engaged, chatty.
- He's been able to go in his room and find creative activities and games to occupy himself.
- Has practiced his guitar without us having to remind him or ask him to do it.
- Has read magazines he's been having for months and never opened.
- He dug out toys he's ignored.
- He's added his own things to the family calendar and brainstormed ideas.
My experience as the parent:
This is hard. I'm not going to lie. I'm used getting quiet time to get household stuff down and to read. I didn't get much of that at all this weekend. Though, this was admittedly not a typical weekend anyway because we were at the races for a big chunk of it. So I'll be figuring this out as we go along. But if you try this, expect you'll have your own version of withdrawal/down mood/feeling overwhelmed to contend with at times.
There's also this nagging guilt because a) I can't very well be on my phone/computer too much while I've taken his screens away so I had to be mindful of that and b) if he has nothing to do, I feel like it's my fault because I've taken something I taught him to depend on away. But I'm hoping with time, that second one will ease because he'll get better at knowing how to fill some of his own time in between the planned activities.
Also, I'm an introvert, so alone time is necessary. There was so. much. togetherness. this weekend, lol. I love my family, but I was happy to have the house to myself again this morning to work.
But I'm willing to go through the pain of the lost alone time if this is going to help him be a happier, more well-balanced kiddo. (And for us to have more involved, interactive family time.) And my goal is not to take away this stuff forever. My plan as of right now is to get through this fast (3 weeks minimum with a stretch goal being all summer) and then bring the devices back in limited amounts. I will probably keep weekdays device/video game free. Then give him limited time on the weekend for the screen time. But I'm withholding a decision on all that until I see the results of this.
I will try to post weekly updates as we go along if you think you'd find that helpful.
And please, send alcohol. ;)
Anyone ever try anything like this? How do you think your kid would react if you did? Also, give me your favorite childhood games or activities. I'd love to hear them. :)