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What Happens When You Have a No-Screens Week?

May 3, 2013

One Saturday morning, I looked up and realized something was wrong, terribly wrong - my house was quiet. Too quiet.

Anyone with kids knows how unnerving that is. Depending on their ages, your brain springs to disaster or badness: Overflowing toilet clogged with paper. Baby, walls, sofa covered in orange permanent marker. Children rummaging through my underwear drawer. But this was worse.

All five of us were on a screen:

  • Me: studying Jamie Oliver's braised lamb shanks - iPhone
  • My husband: battling Clash of Clans - iPhone
  • Boy 1: deep in Minecraft - iMac
  • Girl: watching Netflix cartoons - TV
  • Boy 2: dressing up Mr. Potato Head - iPad

After running from work to school to meetings, we were finally all together, but virtually plugged into separate worlds. In that moment, I realized two things. First, peace and quiet was rare. Second, I didn't like this one bit.

So that's what kicked off "No Screens Week." All of them. Yes, I hate to admit it. We are that typical Canadian family that now has more screens than people.My husband and I had prided ourselves on moderation parenting. We felt we had reasonable limits - 30 minutes of screen, and no screen after 8:30 p.m. on school nights. But slowly our rules became fuzzy. The kids complained there was "nothing to do" if there wasn't a screen. They fought over the iPad to the point where we hid it. Screen time was becoming the first thing they asked for in the morning and the last thing they squabbled over at night. Time to unplug!

The reactions of the nine- and seven-year-old were predictable: "What did we do to deserve this punishment?" So, we made it clear. This is not punishment. It is for everyone. We called it a family screen test. The ground rules were simple. No screens for anyone for seven days, including parents. Only exception was during the workday. When my husband and I got home, we agreed to not check email, text or open our laptops. Here's a re-cap of our electronic detox:

Day 1
Crisis erupts. Stomping and whining. Denial. Anger. Kids threaten to go on strike and spend the week in their rooms in silence. My response? Sure, go ahead.

Day 2
Sulky eldest re-discovers Pokemon cards. Agrees to teach his sister how to build an awesome deck.

Day 3
Break out all craft supplies. Dining room converts to Artzooka! Central. Dump out recycling bin for extra material. Elaborate cardboard car ramp from paper towel roll and tissue box entertains younger one while I cook dinner.

Day 4
Kids ask if the screen test goes well, will they will ever come back? I'm surprised eldest hasn't tried to sneak DS into his room. Husband asks if screen test applies to us. Wants to watch Netflix. Instead, we read.

Day 5
Family disco dance party in the living room. Kids show me their moves from Just Dance 4. Tell jokes. Laugh a lot.

Day 6
Kids tell me best and worst thing about family screen test. Oldest says his sister is a pretty good Pokemon player. She says he knows a lot about DC comics. They both think hard, but agree the only thing they missed was Friday popcorn pajama parties.

Day 7
Test is over. Artzooka! Central is still open in the dining room, but slowly, the screens come back on.

To their surprise and mine, we survived. Card games, crafts, telling jokes and dance party - these are all things we do, but not often enough when there's a screen around.

But I have a few confessions to make. I did miss the mindlessness of ending the week with my husband, some ice cream and the boob tube. And while ArtZooka! Central was fun, I don't miss digging out the dining room table for breakfast. For me, the hardest thing about "No Screens Week" was finding a sliver of peace and quiet. When the screens are "off," I'm always "on." I need a moment so I can catch my breath. That said, I'll likely unplug again just to make sure my family stays connected ... To each other!

Debbie Hynes is a full-time working mom. When she can steal time, Debbie likes to run, row and write in the margins. Born in Newfoundland, she now lives in Montreal with her husband and three wunderkins. You can follow her on Twitter @debbiehynes01 

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