Forty Days Unplugged

The title is an exaggeration.  I can’t entirely unplug my computer.  I do need email, skype and everything else to stay connected me to family in the USA.  I did however cut out the tv, the ipad, facebook, and my internet surfing habits.  This social experiment involved not just myself but my children and occasionally my husband.

Let me be clear that this is my own experience.  The results my family achieved while we unplugged were dramatic and very rewarding but I can make no promises for other families.  I love TV.  I love the internet.  I become half zombie while staring at screens.  Thing 1 has the same affliction.  We become annoyed if disturbed while we are engrossed in our favorite screen.  After our move to Germany I experimented with allowing the children to enjoy their screen time without limits.  They were allowed to watch tv as much as they liked from morning to bedtime.  There was no set limit for time on the iPad either but it was unavailable occasionally since the adults in the house also liked to enjoy its glory.

The experiment did not go as well as I had liked.  I was hoping that the tv would become less important.  That Thing 1 would no longer obsess about it.  That he could wake up without asking for a movie or go to bed without requesting what movie he would like the next day.  The experiment did not curb the addiction.  We just ended up watching movies all day long for months on end.  Barely pausing to do anything else.  I stuck with it hoping he would get over the tv binge and move into a phase where screens were no big deal.  It never happened.  Six months later and he was just as in love with the iPad and movies as ever.  It was time for a new extreme.

I blame myself.  Its my genes.  As I said I love tv and I love the internet.  I can’t get enough.  I have to make rules for myself to stay away from screens or I will use them all day long.  I can easily self diagnose that I am addicted and Thing 1 is too.  Thankfully Thing 2 appears to have her father’s genes and can take it or leave it when it comes to screens.  She’s more interested in sword fighting and dolls but she is not entirely immune from getting sucked into her brother’s movies from time to time.

As Lent approached I decided I had the opportunity to change our lifestyle dramatically.  It was time for us to give up screens and find out what we had all been missing.  I unplugged the tv.  Moved the computer upstairs where it could only be used after the children went to bed.  The results were immediate.  I had patience again and a lot of it.  I no longer felt like someone was interrupting me which is how I felt even if the task at hand was as silly as making a facebook post.  Problems weren’t as severe because I could intervene earlier before they escalated.  I am a naturally calm person so yelling has never been a big problem for me but I found I wasn’t yelling at all anymore.  I am still not saintly enough to be interested in toddler games for 8 hours a day though.  I have to find other things to do like reading a book, cooking, baking or even coloring.  None of these tasks disengaged me like a computer did though.  I didn’t feel interrupted if the kids misbehaved (okay maybe a bit if I was cooking).

Life improved for Thing 1 as well.  He suddenly had more time in his day and started volunteering to help mom in the kitchen (for better or worse).  He played more with Thing 2.  Their games became creatively more complicated and were lasting significantly longer.  All of his activities were lasting longer.  He could build with his Legos or Magformers for a full hour and even remember to clean them up when he was done.

Thing 2 was unchanged.  No noticeable differences of any kind other than getting her big brother back.  Thing 2 is the reason that I know this experiment is not for every family.  There are children like Thing 2 who will never need limits on their screen time.  Who naturally want to get up and play after one Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  If only all kids could be as self regulated as Thing 2.

Easter has come and gone.  TV, movies and iPad are open for service again.  I need your help though Ladies (and gents).  If you have a screen addicted child what limits have you set to maintain the balance in your homes.

What should our new house policy be?