Reset Your Family’s Media Thermostat

by Rinny Yourman

We’ve been participating in Screen-Free Week as a family for years – for the first time, when our youngest was in preschool, and now this year, with our eldest a teenager. In past years, we’ve hiked, biked, and read books aloud. The kids always set the Screen-Free Week agenda. We hold a family meeting in advance to get their input, as we know that buy-in is greater when our children feel that we are listening to them.

This Screen-Free Week, we’ve been talking about trying out a single activity: building a Little Free Library to install on our property. We’ve wanted to build one for a while, but never seemed to find the time to do so. Screen-Free Week is our excuse to get started! The children want to fabricate it by hand, which means consulting plans in advance, shopping for supplies, and then allowing the kids to work (supervised) with tools and decorations to turn it into their own masterpiece. We’re thinking about what landscaping we’ll do to make the library more inviting, and when it’s completed we’ll discuss which children’s books to curate to launch our library. Of course, we may not accomplish any of this, or only a small portion, but the beauty of Screen-Free Week is that it allows us to dream in possibilities.

Screen-Free Week has been important for us as a family because it helps us reset our digital thermostat. Because we enjoy doing things together during Screen-Free Week, we’ve learned that we favor communal over individual screen use during the rest of the year. We have come to anticipate weekly movie nights, where we watch movies together and share the experience as a family. If my kids find a video game online, I prefer when they sit together and play (rather than each playing a different game alone on a different screen), because then the experience does not become isolating. When we hit the road on one of our extensive family road trips, we listen to audiobooks so that we can share the entertainment as a family.

Screen-Free Week has inspired limits too. It’s emboldened us not to give smartphones to our children (including our teenager) yet – I know they can wait. We want entertainment screens turned off within one hour of bedtime, to ensure better sleep. We have learned to care more about quality too, and have all agreed to consult the content ratings on the Common Sense Media website before trying a new show or movie, to confirm that they it is age-appropriate and consistent with our family values. And while we started our own 24-hour screen sabbaticals every weekend long before the kids were born, our experience with Screen-Free Week has only strengthened our resolve to continue this practice. We can see how it’s good for our children. They use the time to relax, read, and especially to play with their neighborhood friends. They make noise, run around, get in arguments, resolve conflicts, and negotiate rules to newly designed games. They get fresh air, lots of movement, and unstructured, creative, and rejuvenating free play.

Some families who carefully regulate their media consumption may not feel the need to participate in Screen-Free Week.  We carefully regulate too, but for us, going screen-free for an entire week feels very . . . liberating.  It’s a reminder to myself of my own autonomy, that I can choose to untether myself from the 24/7 digital leash for an entire week. Screen-Free Week, for us, is not only about disconnecting, but also about reflecting on whether we’re achieving life balance. It invites us to revisit our past year’s screen decisions, reassess the limits we’ve set, and tweak our policies as technologies change and as our kids grow older. In our busy lives when it’s too hard to think ahead (or deeply) about anything, Screen-Free Week grants us the room to do so.

 

Rinny YourmanRinny Yourman is a Screen Time Program Assistant at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, as well as a former labor lawyer and mom to two children. Whenever possible, she and her family love to hit the open road; they have logged more than 35,000 miles through 25 states, with no screen entertainment on board.