Monday, May 12, 2014

Screen-Free Week Realization

Did you know that last week, May 5-11th was Screen-Free Week?   According to the non-profit (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) that created the event;  Screen-Free Week is "the international celebration where children, families, schools, and communities spend seven days turning OFF digital entertainment* and turning ON life! It’s a time to unplug and play, read, daydream, create, explore nature, and spend time with family and friends." *work and school assignments not included.

I saw some information about it a couple months ago on ASTRA's facebook page, and thought it would be a great thing to try with my 4 kiddos.  When Kazoodles, a local toy store, offered $5  Kazoodle bucks for kids who took the pledge and made it the whole week screen-free, my kids didn't hesitate to jump on board.  I told them I would match the $5 if they made it the entire week, so they would have $10 to spend at Kazoodles.   I still wasn't sure that they would be able to give up video games and TV for a whole week, but knowing a trip to the toy store was the reward definitely was a great motivator. 

This experience was definitely a bit of an eye-opener for me.  I knew my 3 year old would be asking to play the i-pad and watch movies.  I figured my 11 year old would have trouble staying off her i-pod.  My 7 and 9 year olds love to play games on the Kindle and wii, but they also love to play outside, so I wasn't sure how they would react. I was pretty sure that the week would be filled with kids asking for electronics and me reminding them it was Screen-Free week.

However that was not the case.  My three year old did ask to play games and watch movies a few times the first few days, but after that he stopped asking!  And guess what!?  My older kids never even asked and didn't even act like they missed it.  


On the other hand --- I struggled.  This Screen-Free Week was definitely way more difficult for me than it was for them.  That surprised me - as a toymaker who spends hours and hours promoting unplugged creative play and problem solving through my puzzles I didn't want to admit it, but it was true... I was an enabler.  It was usually me who turned the TV on to get the kids to be quiet for a while.  If I had my oldest daughter babysit while I ran to the store, I commonly turned a movie on so I would know they would all be sitting safely in one room.  When I was at the Dr.or Dentist office, I usually handed an electronic device to the little ones so that they would sit still and wait quietly.  

This past week, I could do none of those things.  There was one day that was particularly rainy outside and the kids were wrestling and running circles in the house. There was rough-housing, squealing and laughing amid arguments and shouts.  It felt like complete chaos around me.  They were having fun, burning off energy and being extremely loud in the process.  It would have been nice to send them outside, but the rain didn't make that very practical.  I had a strong urge to turn on a movie upstairs so I could make dinner in peace.

Fortunately I resisted the urge, but it did hit home quite hard.  It wasn't the kids who were hooked, it was me!

Turning on the TV, or plugging in a video game is the easy thing to do, but definitely not always the best. I used this easy way out WAY more than necessary.  I can do better. 

I know there will still be times that I feel like the kids are safer inside watching a movie, and I believe it is important for them to use technology, so I am not suggesting cutting it completely.  I just am going to take more accountability for the fact that it isn't something they need or want as much as a crutch I use.

They would much rather me take the time to play, read and walk with them outside. Sometimes that feels like a lot of pressure and I feel like I need to be involved in all they do.  But the truth is, they are creative, imaginative little people and though they do love to have me play with them they are also content on their own.  I don't have to feel like I need to play with them every waking hour, or hand them a device to keep them occupied.  Kids still love to make mud pies, build, sort, solve and daydream.  I just need to remember to let them.

After this week's experience, I am definitely going to strive for a better balance.  I am sure by next year when Screen-Free Week rolls around again (May 4-10th, 2015) I will need a fresh reminder. Will you join us?