What Happened When I Banned My Kids From Television & Other Screens

What Happened When I Banned My Kids From Television & Other Screens

I’m sure you could imagine the kind of reaction you’d get if you told three school aged children that you were taking away all the screens in the house for one week. Not just the television, but ipods and any other screened devices. Just in case you’re not sure, here’s how my children reacted when I told them the news:

Daughter, almost 12: “OMG, Really?! OMG!”
Son, 9.5: “WHAAAAAAAAT???? You’re going to WHAT? Whyyyyyyyyy” (about to burst into tears)
Step Son, 10: “Can I get a prize if I do it?! I want ice-cream! I’m going to win!”

A bit of a mixed bag of responses, just as unique and interesting as they each are!

In the past, especially as a single mother, I lost track of how much screen time my kids were having. It wasn’t too bad, but as they have gotten older and ipods came on the scene, I started to notice far too much time spent huddled over a screen – and it can be really hard to track how long they have been on them when you’ve been racing about, trying to make dinner, running a business, trying to take care of so many other things… but I knew it was time to pull back on the reins. I needed to do something about it.

I was well prepared for it to be a bit of a tough gig initially. Apart from the initial sheer terror that came over me, realising that there would be a very strong possibility that all four of our children would then start to compete for face time with me at the one time, if not kill each other out of sheer boredom, I knew that it’d be a matter of time before things changed. You only have to read similar stories in the media and online to see that getting rid of screens can have a massive impact on children and adults like.

So I took the plunge, telling them that they’d have to hand in their ipods at 8pm on Sunday night and suggested that they might like to think up a list of things they could do for the week that doesn’t require a screen. I expected ruckus behaviour from the get go, especially on a Sunday night, but much to my delight they proved me wrong. Immediately two of them headed down towards the bedrooms, later re-surfacing in the hallway playing cricket with a soft ball. All seemed to be going great so far! Bedtime is 8.30 at our home, so off they went to bed for the night… while I thought about what it might be like in the morning!

Day 1 Screen Free

The day started normally, only I pleasantly didn’t have to watch out for kids sneaking onto ipods before they were ready, which drives me berserkas – this time they were well hidden. The kids got ready and we had some time to spare. Before I knew it, they were bolting out the door, saying they were going to go scoot or ride their bikes. Woah! That was super cool. Usually at this point their faces are buried in ipods until we need to get into the car… when their faces are buried in ipods until we get to the bus stop… where I assume their faces are buried in their ipods until they get to school.

When they got home for the day, initially there was a bit of tension and the token, ’I’m bored, this whole thing is stupid.’

Me: ‘Well why don’t you go play with your toys in your room, or read some books?’
Him, sulking: ‘But they’re mostly all packed.’
Me: ‘Um. Yeah good point.’

Crap. Completely forgot that we’d started packing for our move soon, starting in the boys room. How was I going to pull this off now?!! I took long, slow deep breaths and wondered if it was a truly good time to do this experiment, but I decided to stick with it, after all, they weren’t going to suffer and it meant they would just have to dig deeper. I am glad I did, because not long after that moment, it was like nothing had happened at all – they had gotten distracted and all went outside to play on the trampoline for AGES. When they eventually came back in, my step-son realised he has a chess board in his room, and challenged my daughter to a game of chess! They kept playing until bedtime.

Day 2 Screen Free

Was on a bit of a high after the roaring success of the day before, but also wondered if today would be the day that they’d start to get a bit rotten with me. But it ended up being more like a day of acceptance. To my surprise they had just dropped right into things. They got something to eat after school, then went outside to play on the trampoline for ages with their neighbourhood friends, who they usually find any excuse to hang out with and play on their game consoles (until we have to drag them home). But instead, all the kids and their friends were outdoors, exercising, playing and socialising! This is how it should be!

During the play time, my kids had a bit of a biffo, so my son came and sat inside, and he was unusually calm. He went off to scooter and ride outside on his own for a bit but there were no major problems. The two other kids came in eventually and continued on with a game of chess until dinner and shower time. It. Was. Awesome.

Day 3 Screen Free

Today was much like the day before but in the afternoon, my partner (who arrived home from just before the kids) accidentally popped on the television for my daughter to watch a show while we had a cuppa and catch up. The kids walked in, got something to eat and were outside with their friends in a flash – they didn’t even realise the television was on!

They seemed a little bored after dinner so I sent everyone on a box packing mission. When everyone gets on a roll its great to see them all working together. The initial motivation is the hardest bit, but I reckon with less television and games and more family/teamwork stuff (which would become the norm), it could quite possibly change. I find kids to be so adaptive. I was able to eliminate things like cordial, white bread and other nasties a LONG time ago, to the point that they don’t even ask any more and make much better choices. So why not this too?

As a family we have been talking and connecting so much more, maybe too much – my step son came back into the lounge room after he was supposed to be in the shower. He dropped his towel, potentially deliberately and there was some nudie run action going on. I saw far too much butt for my liking and spent a good 10 minutes with my head behind a pillow. But we all had so many laughs that night. Everyone was chilled. No-one was stressed, uptight, grumpy or disconnected. You really do notice how much life and connection that television robs from you after a few days. The presence in the house is so much better – people are looking at each other, talking and waiting for responses without being distracted by incessant sights and sounds, the all familiar flickering in the background. I don’t want to go back to having a television.

Day 4 Screen Free

Today I had a talk with the kids to see if they noticed any changes in the house. I asked if they thought they were playing more, if we were all talking more as a family, having fun! They could see it, as much as I could tell that they didn’t want to talk it up! My step-son started asking about when he was getting his ice-cream and said that he couldn’t wait to play something on his ipod in the next few days. I thought my efforts were all in vain, but later in the evening I heard him saying to his dad, ’I’m not going to use my ipod until I get to mums for the holidays!’

Little wins, little victories. Television has become nothing but irritating background noise, and I am loving the peace. With 4 kids in the house, there is lots of audio competition, and one less thing to bash my eardrums, the better! Its a distraction in so many ways, so when we move house in a couple of weeks, I will definitely be setting up the living areas so differently – places to share, relax, enjoy rather than a room that is designed around a television screen. Because thats what we do – design the living room around the television. Why?

Day 5 Screen Free

Today the kids start their holidays and will fly interstate to be with their dad. I might have to start this experiment all over again when they get back, but one thing is sure, I will be switching things off, so much more than ever before and have designated ipod free times.

My Pros Of Going Screen Free

So summarising now – here’s my list of pro’s for going screen free in a family home:

  • Your family becomes so much more present with one another
  • Less distractions
  • Less noise
  • Kids play outside more – get exercise – especially for boys who usually have hyped up energy to burn
  • Kids play outside more – socialise with other kids and learn social skills
  • Your pre-teen daughter chews off other kids ears, not yours
  • Kids choose more imaginative play

My Cons Of Going Screen Free

After a week going screen free, I can honestly say there are none. But if you asked me what cons I might have expected before starting, the list probably would have been huge. Making the decision to start out is the hardest and scariest because its all we’ve known. But better awaits those who dare….

Recommended Reading

This screen free week was inspired by another BellyBelly article which I highly recommend checking out HERE about a doctors warning about too much screen time for babies and children. Let it inspire you to get creative with your children too!

Now I challenge you – who’s going screen free next week? If my crazy zoo can do it, I am positive anyone can do it!!!

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Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.

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