Reconnecting: One Mother’s Tale of Limiting Family Screen Time

Life without screen time: “What started out as a 100 day challenge turned into a major lifestyle change… It has been amazing…”

Have you ever found yourself reading a VERY important online article about being a better parent, at a time that you could be helping your kids with homework or making dinner? Sadly, I caught myself doing this often up until a few months ago.

I think we are a fairly typical Silicon Valley family. My husband, Lee, is in the tech industry working on virtual reality, and I am a stay-at-home mom who was addicted to social media. My kids both have iPads, and the oldest has a laptop. There are multiple TVs and video game consoles in a few rooms throughout our house. Most of our family and friends are more than 100 miles away from us, so we do a lot of FaceTime, texting and social media sharing, to keep in touch with everyone. Like most of the families I know, we are very connected. The problem is the primary connection is to our devices and not to each other.

When I realized our relationships were failing and there was a lack of motivation or ambition to do much outside of the house, I knew we needed to get radical. And, I knew there would be some resistance. One of our sons was dealing with behavior and attention issues and the other was dealing with emotional issues. I was longing to explore this new place that we live and engage more in my hobbies. The best solution I could come up with was getting us all off of our screens–no TV, iPads, video games or social media.

Before I asked the whole family to turn off the devices and disconnect from TV and technology, I had to get my own addiction, Facebook, under control. Just before Christmas, I removed the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone and unfollowed everyone I was friends with on Facebook, along with all of the pages I had been following. This was amazing. All I was able to see, if I did go to Facebook, were ads and people I might know. Perfect!!! I then focused on staying off my phone. No need to constantly check emails, and I was doing my best to keep texts to a minimum. I also spent the week of Christmas leaving my phone in the car if I was out at a restaurant or in any social situation.

Like most of the families I know, we are very connected. The problem is the primary connection is to our devices and not to each other.

When the family began the challenge on January 1, the rules for the first month were simple. There would be no social media or TV for Theresa, and only important and limited iPhone use, such as phone calls and GPS. For the children, no TV, video games or iPad use was allowed. With his work in technology, Lee focused on supporting me and encouraging the kids.

With three major obstacles that would have caused me to give up in the past, we stuck with it. First, it may have been the coldest and wettest winter in San Jose history, although I have not researched this. Second was that my seven year old had a broken arm and was restricted from sports or physical activity for the first 6 weeks. The last and biggest challenge was that my father’s health was on a major decline and he passed away on February 13. We had multiple airplane trips, weekends with me away at my parents, lots of meals at restaurants, and idle time at Grandma’s. It wasn’t the best timing to start this effort of transformation, but we persevered, and I am so happy that we did. We dealt with resistance from and emotional upset from one child for a month and not a single complaint from the other child.

As a family, we are reading, playing board games, taking walks and meditating together.

In January, the boys and I read the first Harry Potter book together every night before bed, and had a movie night with friends over to watch it and make wands at the end of the month. The kids are going to bed on time; and my oldest sets his alarm for 6:30 every morning, so that he has 30-40 minutes to read before he starts getting ready for school. After learning how to play chess from the Chess Wizards at school, my oldest and his dad are now playing speed chess together, and something I am especially proud of is finding my boys playing chess together, as well. The most positive outcome was the improvement of our relationships. Last year, my oldest and I struggled with each other and most of our conversations were an argument. We are now speaking to each other with more patience and love.

Four months later, what are our current rules regarding television and technology? The kids watch one hour of television on a Saturday morning and we have movie nights one or two nights a week. Once a month they can binge play two and a half hours of video games, which my oldest usually plays over Skype with one of his good buddies in Orange County. Occasionally they use their iPads for drawing tutorials or doing science experiments, which has created some cool art and fun science!

The kids are going to bed on time; and my oldest sets his alarm for 6:30 every morning, so that he has 30-40 minutes to read before he starts getting ready for school.

As for me, I have done well to stay off Facebook, aside from doing productive things in Facebook groups. I am following a couple of pages, that involve staying disconnected from our devices, and celebrating family time. I also participate in a group for families at my kids’ school, where we discuss parenting issues and plan playdates, camping trips and lots of other fun things to do.  Now and then, I will check out a post that I have been tagged in or post something fun to a friend’s Facebook page, but always without getting sucked into the negativity that had overwhelmed me in the past. I have created a new Instagram account that I only use for the art of photography and inspiration.

It has been great spending more time engaging in my hobbies. I am looking forward to going to a Women’s Photography Retreat in October, something I might have never known about or considered going to a few months ago. Since I am not quite where I would like to be as far as my iPhone goes, I plan on creating a few more challenges for myself that will involve putting my phone away when I get home with the kids after school. Luckily, I am no longer reading articles about “How to be a Better Mom,” but I sometimes get involved with text conversations or photo editing on my phone, at times that could be focused on the family.

What started out as a 100 day challenge, has turned into a major lifestyle change for all of us. It has been amazing, spending more quality time together, and all of us, including Lee, have enjoyed reading so many more books than we ever imagined.

I realize that not everyone is as addicted to social media as I was, and understand that every family works hard to create rules and values that work for their family. But I’d like to challenge you to put down your phone and turn off the TV and video games for a day, a week, or maybe even a month. Get outside. Go for a walk. Build something. Read a book together. Play a board game. Cook dinner together. I guarantee, you will not regret it.

A few links to websites or books that have motivated and inspired me…

Books that I have read through this journey

There’s one sure thing parents can do to help their kids learn, regardless of financial means: Forbid them from watching television on school nights.–President Barack Obama

 

Now that her family has dramatically reduced screen time, the author, Theresa (upper right hand corner), says, “The most positive outcome was the improvement of our relationships. Last year, my oldest and I struggled with each other and most of our conversations were an argument. We are now speaking to each other with more patience and love.”

About the author: Theresa Cooper is a parent of two elementary students who attend Casa di Mir Montessori School, which also advocates strong limits on screen time. Theresa has her own blog where she shares her experiences with others looking to reduce or eliminate screen time.