Last weekend I did the unthinkable. I forced a weekend of horror upon my family. What could be so awful? Make them clean their rooms? No, but I wish I did. Make my husband make the bed? Ha! Make them listen to the Spice Girls? No, I keep that for when I am doing housework.
I made them have a weekend of….NO computer, DS, Wii, iPod or television. Yes, even TV!! A totally screen free weekend.
When I told people what I was doing, I think they thought I was mad. Some laughed, some looked at me like I was a nutbag, and some wished me good luck. I needed it.
This started when my sister lent me a book called “The Winter of our Disconnect” by Susan Maushart. Actually it started long before then. It started when the kids started fighting over the computer. Whingeing when they wanted to get on it and whingeing when I asked them to get off. Fighting over whose turn it was next. The ability to focus on a game on the DS or iPod, but not being able to look at me when I am talking to them. Always seeing the back of their head while they focus on that screen and noises of approval that it makes. It drives me nuts. I always wished I could get rid of it all, even the TV. Then I started reading “The Winter of our Disconnect”. That family did it for a whole 6 months, surely we could do it for 2 days. I came to think of it as a technology detox.
I gave the boys a couple of weeks warning, so everyone was well prepared. They complained, but at least were prepared!
It started so well. Saturday morning I was lying in bed and I could hear them creeping into the lounge. I cursed my usual Saturday morning curse – why am I blessed with boys that get up so goddamned early!? I thought they would automatically turn on the TV or sneak onto the computer. But no, amazingly they did none of that. I felt a little swell of pride in them as I dragged myself out of bed.
Normally we are racing around trying to get ready for soccer, but since weren’t pouring our time into computers and the TV, we had time for a leisurely breakfast. M (12 years) made scrambled eggs and bacon, and E (10 years) made an omelet. By the time 8am rolled around they had done some drawing, made breakfast, and had some music cranking. They had done a day’s worth of stuff. What next?
It didn’t take long for the cracks to start showing. 8:10am, A (7 years) starts to crumble. He says he is bored if he doesn’t have the computer and “can’t I AT LEAST do mathletics??” followed by a few sobs. I stuck to my guns though. The day got better….and worse….and better again. They did all sorts of things – had a bit of a dance to Michael Jackson, asked me tricky questions, practiced their instruments, went shopping.
A had another crumbly moment, a bit like someone coming down off a high – “Please, please, I just need 10 minutes on the computer. PLEASE, JUST 10 MINUTES” sob sob sob sob, collapse on the floor in a heap, sob sob sob.
I started getting a bit sick of having to answer all their intense questions, so I let the TV come on at 6:45pm, and they got to watch 45 mins.
The next day was better. We had swimming lessons, they played outside for hours, and went for a 4km walk. The complaints were less, the arguments were less, and there was less asking how many hours until they could get on the computer. A bit of socialising with the neighbours that night helped draw the screen free weekend to a successful close.
I really had to ask myself a few questions by the end of the weekend. Why was I doing this? Did I gain anything from it? What would I change? Would I do it again?
WHY was the big question. As I explained to the boys, I think everyone has forgotten how to entertain themselves without technology, and I think A’s behaviour illustrated this perfectly. I felt like we need the time and the space to just be, to communicate without distractions, to be able to focus on a conversation or task. And whilst the boys still argued about crap, it was nice to take away one of the key focuses of the arguments.
YES, I felt that we really did gain something. I felt so much better afterwards, like we had paused and allowed things to slow down a little. Like we really had cleansed and detoxed. A bit like deciding to have a couple of wine free nights. The first night is rotten, but the second one is better. And you decide not to drink so much for a while (then it creeps back up again). The other massive gain was TIME, and also feeling a lot more focussed. When you are not staring at a screen or passively watching TV you have so much more time. And it is a better quality of time. That is one thing I loved!
It wasn’t total bliss for me though – I did find the lack of computer frustrating. I wanted to look up a recipe or check out a website I saw in a magazine. Was it cheating if I jumped on the computer to print off a magazine in pdf format to read? Or quickly jump on to internet banking and pay a couple of bills.
I am trying to make small changes. I am consciously trying not to use the computer unless I have a specific task in mind. If I am not watching a program, the TV is off. For the boys I am really enforcing time limits on the computer and not allow it to be the default form of entertainment.
I might do this again when the weather is better and we can get outside more. I might do it more regularly, but only as one day, not two. I am going to consciously engineer screen free time on weekends without letting them know! I was just lucky that it was a beautiful winter weekend that allowed us to get outside. If it was wet and cold I think I would have given in – and that would really have been disappointing.
I just kept thinking about one question…Do you own your technology, or does your technology own you? How would you honestly answer that question?