Screen-free days make good family memories

July 30, 2011|Meg Partington

At the end of the school year, I started designating one screen-free day a week. It's the second year my husband, son and I have embarked on this techno-detoxing journey.

On one level, I struggle to accept the role that computers, Wiis and other gadgets play in our education and recreation. On another level, I appreciate how quickly we can get in touch with friends, loved ones and current events thanks to the Web and Facebook.

My overactive brain couldn't remember how easy or hard these screen-free days were last summer, so this year, I kept a journal for the first four weeks of our experiment.

June 18 was day one. At 9 a.m., my 10-year-old son made a mad dash to set the DVR to record a show he knew he couldn't watch until the next day. He lingered a bit while he set it, trying to get a screen fix.

Less than an hour later, he asked if listening to music was acceptable. Thanks to iPod Touches, audio has merged with visual, so I OK'd him listening to music, but said there could be no dabbling with "Angry Birds" on the screen.

A creature of habit, I felt a bit detached from the world, since I typically check my work and home email accounts in the late morning.

The weather was iffy and my husband wondered how, without email, we would know if our son's Little League game was canceled. I reminded him that he could use our antiquated, cord-bearing telephone to reach the coach.

The game was a "go," and my son won the game ball for his efforts. He asked if he could be rewarded with watching a TV show while eating his bedtime snack. He was not pleased with my answer.

He decided to read instead — thankfully another favorite pastime of his — and did so for more than an hour.

It bothers me greatly that my son is so seemingly addicted, especially since we limit him to an hour a day of screen time, which encompasses video games, computer and TV. I wonder how other children would cope, especially considering that many youths ages 8 to 18 spend nearly four hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost two additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I'm pleasantly surprised, however, that for my husband and me, the detoxing has been so easy. We don't regularly use a cellphone and we're not a texting couple. But we hop online for short periods throughout the day to check email, and news and sports sites. It's one way we decompress, but luckily, not the only way.

June 25 was day two. After a week of learning how to make computer games at Hagerstown Community College's College for Kids, it seemed easier for my son to greet the day with a smile. His teacher, Jimmy Horner, was featured in the May 23 edition of The Herald-Mail in a story about how his participation in Washington County Technical High School's computer game development and animation program helped him earn the Linehan Art Scholarship at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

My son read for an hour after waking up on day two. Then, I heard him humming and creating dialogue between action figures that have been inactive for quite awhile. I smiled at the reality that the gift of creative play still thrives in his brain.

After an afternoon pool party, his nose was in a book before and after dinner. By day's end, he read two of Henry Winkler's Hank Zipzer books — 320 pages! The day closed with family games of table tennis, Cadoo and Sorry. None of us was sorry our screens were off.

July 1 was day three. We spent 4 1/2 hours in a car returning home from North Carolina, then my son went to a birthday party. Unpacking and the post-vacation "crash and burn" made the day fly by.

July 7 was day four. It was full of music, reading, and board and card games. The evening forecast called for rain, so I suggested we go to a movie.

"But Mom, it's screen-free day!" my son scolded me.

The rain held off and we played miniature golf instead. No beeps or clicks, just putts. It was an above-par day for sure.

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