The urge had become completely Pavlovian.
Whenever I stopped at a red light while driving, I’d check my phone for messages. Stop at a red light, check for messages; stop; check. It was ingrained, unsafe, and annoyingly compelling and unstoppable. Even with my notifications off ’d keep my phone nearby, compulsively checking for no reason whatsoever.
I should have known better, of course, given my professional work with Screen-Free Week 2018 and 2019 and the Screen Time Action Network. But even those of us deep in the fight for safe, humane tech for children rely on our digital tech to help us advance our mission and advocacy.
That means we are no less prone to habituated tech habits and digital tech overuse (or unsafe use), especially considering that our tech devices are so deviously designed to feel impossible to put down.
So in spring 2022, I asked myself: could I use Screen-Free Week this year to spark lasting change in my relationship with my own devices?
For the two years I worked to promote Screen-Free Week, I urged families, schools, and communities to consider their past year of digital tech use as inspiration for how they’d celebrate the week, then use the week as inspiration for a changed relationship the rest of the year. But could one Screen-Free Week really make a difference in my own life?
Let me quell the doubters and naysayers by saying that yes, it can be absolutely habit changing.
Last Screen-Free Week I made that one simple resolution not to check my phone at red lights. That was it. I kept my phone in my purse and kept the purse zipped and inaccessible. It wasn’t easy, but I knew that putting temptation out of reach is an important habit-changing tool.
After one week of a severed “red light-check phone” connection thanks to Screen-Free Week, the urge had begun to lift. I decided to continue the practice as I didn’t want to give up on my progress.
Months later, I’ve stuck to this new habit. If I feel strongly that I need to check my phone (like when I’m waiting for an important message), I will pull to the side of the road and check. I also keep a pad of paper and pen near me to jot down ideas that pop into my mind (yes, I do this at red lights, but it is not an ingrained, habituated response, so I allow myself this traffic light indulgence).
I can check my phone before I begin a drive and after I’ve parked at the end, but not during the drive itself. I replaced one terrible tech habit with a digital wellness practice that fosters mindfulness and allows me to enjoy the journey more.
So yes, Screen-Free Week is about a week of gratitude, fun, and community. But I’m serious when I say that if you’re lucky, it may rock your year as well!
Rinny Yourman, Esq., digital wellness educator, parent educator, blogger, and mom to two teens, volunteered and has worked with Screen-Free Week and the Screen Time Action Network at Fairplay since 2018.