Unplugged: Why we Quit all Screens

How to Quit TV - An Everyday Story

How to Quit TV - An Everyday StoryWell hello. It’s been a little while since we have chatted, hasn’t it? I hope you had a lovely Christmas.

There’s a reason things have been so quiet around here. Quite out of the blue, and without discussing it with the kids (and only briefly with my husband), I decided that we needed to unplug. Unplug everything. All television, iPad, video games, internet, everything.

Now I am definitely not intending to make you feel guilty in any way if your children watch TV or play apps and video games. I am just saying that things had gotten out of hand here in our family.

I’ve written before about television and screens, and how it was a non-issue in our family; how I am not one for extreme decisions, preferring balance instead, but in this case I truly felt Jack (5.5 yrs) and Sarah (3.5 yrs) needed a clean and absolute break from all screens. And that I too needed to be there for them, setting the example, and reinforcing to them the importance of this decision.Β How to Quit TV - An Everyday Story

So why?

Why? Why suddenly decide to cut out all screens? I can honestly say it was my fault. Jack had become interested in Star Wars and Batman through books and comics. And well even though these shows weren’tΒ on the commercial-free kids’ channel, I thought it was only two shows, it would be fine.

But it wasn’t fine. The kids started to get really demanding, asking for all kinds of toys, singing irritating jingles and well just becoming, honestly, quite obnoxious.

All of their play centred around Star Wars or superheroes. And not in a deep, imaginative way; in a very shallow, monotonous, empty way. The same battle scenes over and over again. The creativity seemed to have been sapped right from them.

They didn’t ask questions anymore. They didn’t wonder anymore. They didn’t build with blocks, their toy shelves left untouched. All they did was watch TV and battle.

So on the 1st of December we stopped all screens.

How to Quit TV - An Everyday Story

Now I am not going to tell you that it was all sunshine and unicorns; that Jack and Sarah returned to their former inquisitive, creative selves. It was HARD! The first week was REALLY hard. There were a lot of tantrums. A LOT.

We told Jack and Sarah that we were taking a break from screens for a while. I must have repeated that to them at least a hundred times that first week. It was hard for me too. I was used to the quiet when they were watching TV. It was hard for me not to switch it on when Jack and Sarah started niggling and fighting. But I was resolute in our decision.

And after about threeΒ weeks of no screens I can honestly tell you the play returned. Deep, uninterrupted play. Play with their own made-up characters and their own stories.

And questions. For the first time in what seemed like months, Jack was asking questions again. He was noticing things again; wanting to know why and how things work.Β How to Quit TV - An Everyday Story How to Quit TV - An Everyday StoryIt wasn’t just TV. It was video games too. We used to allow Jack to play video games on Saturday mornings before breakfast. It doesn’t sound like much, but that time consumed his thoughts. After playing on Saturday morning, (if he wasn’t talking about Star Wars or Batman) he was talking about what he did on Little Big Planet. By mid-week he was talking about what he was going to do come Saturday morning again.

It was driving us CRAZY!How to Quit TV - An Everyday Story

After four weeks I am ready to bring some TV and internet use back into their lives. But I have learnt a lot about how much they can tolerate before it strips them of their creativity. I still believe that screens can contribute positively to our lives and our children’s learning but I know now that video games are not a part of that, neither is commercial television.

I got careless I guess. I don’t know. Maybe less mindful. Either way. It has been a long, hard December. But I see the kids now, see the change and know that it was all worth it.

They are happier. We are happier.

…..

39 Replies to “Unplugged: Why we Quit all Screens”

  1. We are so close to this point – J and T’s play (same age as your two) has gone from creative to prescriptive following on with story lines. We’ve cut back considerably and banned electronic gadgets for the kids.

    1. That is what happened here Cerys. Their play changed so dramatically to just really shallow prescription storylines. It is so nice to see their imaginations come back again.

    2. My daughter stopped TV for two weeks during Christmas break for her 3 yr old after his personality became “not nice”. His attitude was negative and voice was whiny and fussy all of the time.. He only watched the “good” shows, Super Why, Thomas train, Mister Rogers….etc..only about an hour a day. If I had not witnessed first hand I would not believe it would make such a difference. After 2 days he returned to his sweet adorable personally. We are not sure what happens in the brain but we are now committed to NO TV. (I am the care giver every day) We will be doing a lot more activities. So nice to see support here..

  2. We’re doing the same in January, can’t wait to see the change. Glad you’re back!

    1. Thanks Mandee πŸ™‚ Let me know how you go. It was hardest for me I think at first. I kept wanting to suggest we turn on the telly. But if you can resist offering then I think it makes it a lot easier. Good Luck! πŸ™‚

  3. amrita sharma says:

    Hi Kate..it seems u hv won d battle against screens..I too hv unplugged my kids screen tym since sometime n im blessed to not have great difficulty. .we do listen to lot of songs..n he dsnt even ask for tv anymore.I just distract him with play…hugs:-)

    1. We sing a lot more too πŸ™‚ And read and play and so much more. And you’re right, they don’t even ask for tv anymore.

  4. I find it so interesting that their play changed so dramatically through watching commercial TV. I love learning through the hindsight of others so thank you, this is a lesson I will definitely keep in my mind as my son grows.

    1. It was so dramatic and almost instantly. I got a hard awakening when they started re-playing ads in their games and included toys which they had never seen before, only on the ads.

      But thankfully, just as quickly as the ads appeared in their play, they have now gone. Commercial TV is definitely out for us now.

  5. lydia purple says:

    i have done the screen cut out several times in the past with my kids and since the beginning of december they are only allowed to watch one family movie on friday night and some shorter educational shows on saturday and or some games on the ipad (usually puzzles or drawing). no screens sunday through thursday. before we made this decision it used to always slip back into too much screentime everyday… and the more they watch the more they ask for it, they play less and not as deep or creative, just like your kids i guess. also i noticed no screen time = no tantrums. for our saturday screen time i try to limit it to 2 hours max. otherwise they act out once i turn it off…. it really has quieted the emotional stress level and it improved the play so much i can say that i have more time to get stuff done because they are absorbed in deep play or drawing or whatever and there is no fighting over what next to watch. sometimes they ask during the week but i stay consistent and there is usually no problem.

  6. Thanks so much for writing this post. I’ve always been the anti-screen-time militant in our house, but the older the kids get (6, 4 and baby), the more my husband questions why it’s such a big deal. He’s been so insistent lately that I had begun to question it myself, so your post came at *just* the right time. Thanks!

    (We do allow about 15 minutes of cartoons before bed, not because the cartoons are especially edifying, but because they’re in my husband’s native language. I do speak it all day with the kids, too, but it’s a second language for me, and they don’t hear it from anyone else. So we have quarter of an hour of “Timoon and Pumba” in Arabic most evenings πŸ˜‰

  7. Thanks for sharing Katie!! I have lots of reasons for limiting my elder daughters tv time (she is very nearly 3 – my younger daughter who is 18 months doesn’t watch tv yet she isn’t interested and I don’t encourage it), but this wasn’t one I’ve ever considered. I haven’t noticed the changes you’ve described in her. But am pleased to have another reason to add to my mental list of reasons for my limits. Hope the transition back to some screen time goes ok for you all.

  8. Well said! Where did you get the fence pieces shown in the top pic? With the toy horses?

  9. Way to go. I love your blog (it’s my favorite), and as a mom of a 2.5 year old boy, I plan to follow your lead. My son watches minimal TV with us. Maybe one PBS show every 2 weeks. Yet at his grandma’s he watches shows every time he visits, which is 1-2 times per week, and some movies that were rated PG and that my husband and I disapproved of when we found out. He is very much into the commercial characters from these shows now, and he’s picking up on sassy language and crude words that never were part of his vocabulary before.

    I think screens are fantastic resouces for older kids, when the content is quality and they’re used in moderation, but these little ones are so impressionable. We will be having another talk with Grandma. πŸ™‚

    How do you deal with cutting out your own Internet usage? I feel like there’s always a reason to be looking something up on my phone, but I hate using my phone like that around my son.

    1. lydia purple says:

      it’s all about self discipline…. not to use the screen gadgets around the kids all the time.
      write down the questions you want to google and set up a time once or twice per week (with a specific hour limit preferably) for internet research.
      check email and social media once a day at a specific hour.

      i actually deleted my facebook because it was eating up so much time. 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there.

  10. Good for you, Kate! This is something I need to definitely be more on top of. I’m glad you were able to see the creativity come back, and it gives one hope, especially hearing it took several weeks! Thank you for this post!

  11. Thanks for sharing your experience Kate. We don’t let my son (2yo) watch commercial TV in our house (only a little bit of ABC 4 Kids) and I think I’ll be keeping it that way!

  12. I adore everything about this post. We are not a screen-heavy family but after the hub–bub of the holidays (and all the Christmas specials) we, too, need a cleanse. I loved reading about how yours went. Good job!

  13. Hi Kate, Great post. I wondered if you could please share how you are going to reintroduce screen time. How much? What time of day? What type? Just curious. Have the kids wanted more once they had a little. I find there is a tipping point where once they have had ‘too much’ they just want more and more. Sometime hard to find the sweet spot. Would love to hear your experience. Thanks

  14. I notice if my kids, especially my daughter, spends too much time staring at the screen, she becomes grumpy and irritable when you take it away. We have gotten into a bad routine, as well. This post is a good reminder to dial it back!

  15. I just ended a week long sabbatical from screen time and I am thinking we need more than a week. Thank you for posting about this!!!!!

  16. Thanks for sharing. I love to hear the changes in children’s behavior. We, too, attempted cutting screen time, but have always returned to more hours. It was not my children (ages 5 and 19 months). It was me and my husband’s desire to have some quiet time during their waking hours, or for me to be able to cook meals. My husband is at a silent retreat for 10 days now, and before he left, he would like to take TV out of our living room when he returns. I am a little nervous, not because I won’t e able to watch TV (because I am the one who does not watch TV at all at our house), but because I have to be available to play with them until they are comfortable enough to play by themselves. Wish us luck. πŸ™‚

    1. I have a home daycare with six kids here between 13 months and 3 years old, and in the beginning (when I first started this job), oh how I wished I could pull out a TV when I really had to get some cooking done, or clean up the lunch mess from 6 little kids! But that was never an option for me. I did daydream about it a little though πŸ™‚

      I HAD to figure out a way to occupy the kids (and so many of them!) during those challenging times without TV. Luckily, we have a large playroom off the kitchen so I can supervise while they play. I taught them that they must stay in the playroom during these times. Even if they didn’t like being in there, I figured it was a fantastic space with lots of toys, so it wasn’t harming them to “have” to play by themselves! I comforted–and then ignored–some crying and whining in the beginning, mostly from my son, who wanted me at his side at all times, but has learned to play wonderfully since. Now if any of the kids are having a hard time during my cleaning and cooking times (bickering with others, unable to play well in the playroom), they can sit at the kitchen table with me with a puzzle or some color crayons, but that rarely happens.

      This translated over into life with my 2.5 year old son after daycare is over. It also helps that he’s older and can be trusted a bit by himself in a safe space. But I do find that watching shows leads to more watching shows. If we watch something one day, we probably will watch something else 2-3 times more that week. But we will then go weeks without seeing any shows. It’s easier for me to just go cold turkey from it because it sure sneaks back in fast…

  17. Thanks for this post – partly because it has stimulated such interesting discussion on this page and your facebook (which I hope continues). Doing what is right for your family is paramount, rather than adhering to a particular philosophy. You were able to see what was needed and enact it, which is great.

    I was initially quite anti-screens but I’m finding that there’s a lot there which provokes and deepens my kids’ interests. We are all bookworms, but you can’t watch a ballet in a book (ballet currently a big interest). There are some things that are difficult for us to see in real life, just because of where we live, so watching stuff about it has been great.

    Having said that, we don’t have an ipad or equivalent, and we only get 2 tv channels since the digital switchover (so no ABC for kids!) So there isn’t as much temptation. And everything is about time – the more screen time, the less time for outside/art/whatever. Esp when your kids are still having a day sleep, it ends up being a big percentage of their day.

    We have found CDs are just as popular as DVDs here – ‘Frozen’ on CD is preferred to DVD, because they can act it all out rather than watching it. They love acting out other pieces of music too (I remember doing that – but we had records!) If I need to keep them out of mischief for a few minutes, a CD will do it as well as a DVD.

  18. squashedtomatoes says:

    Hi Kate – this was a great post. Honest and informative. I have two older children (13 and 10) and two younger (newly 4 and newly 7), and believe me, I’ve been through this! When our oldest was around 5 years old, we did anything and everything to encourage his interests – his fascination with scary things became Scooby Doo, Star Wars lego became Star Wars computer games, which in turn led to Super Mario – and by the time he was 8, he pretty much was obsessed, and couldn’t talk about or play anything else – it was a disaster! Now we are a very different family! We are so careful with our younger two – we don’t completey avoid these things as we don’t want to isolate them, but we have limits! Our 7 year old has an hour computer time on Monday, and an hour on Friday, film night on Thursday. Our 4 year old takes part in film night too, and no computer time – he does sometimes have half an hour of children’s tv after lunch (thiugh not every day). It’s a slippery slope. Your blog is lovely – full of beautiful ‘organic’ photos, full of fantastic learning, and you often impress me, and even make me worry my own children are way ‘behind’ (!!!!) – I never would have thought you would have had this problem by how you write and by your photos – it’s such a wonderful thing that you are honest about this – so us other mums can see that even ‘perfect’ households have problems! Thank you! πŸ˜‰

  19. We’ve done complete breaks every now and then through this year, which started by me getting fed up earlier in 2014. I ended up blogging about it at http://screenfreefamily.blogspot.com/ (I haven’t really kept up with the blog recently though). It was a wonderful time, (after the initial few days of whining), but they were so much more creative, and bickered less, and we enjoyed a lot of family time with games, books, building forts, etc. We usually go back to letting them have screens on a limited basis, until it gets out of hand. For us, it wasn’t the commercials on TV (we don’t have cable), it was the addictive video games. They also watched back-to-back episodes on Netflix. If we don’t periodically watch it, they will go right back into old habits, and start defaulting to screens for entertainment. My goal is to have screens as secondary…when there is free time, I want them to be excited about and think first of non-screen options. They can usually get that that point when they know they are ‘screen-free’ for a period of time. But if they have even limited amount of screens, they will opt for the screen first, reach their limit, and then move on to the next thing only as an after-thought. *sigh*. it’s an uphill battle.

  20. Thanks for this post. It mirrors exactly what we have experienced with our almost 3 year old son. When we decided to completely stop screens, about 6 weeks ago, we would never have imagined the benefits. We are rediscovering a child whom we hadn’t really realised was slipping away from us. No more tantrums, deeper, more imaginative play, better concentration, more independence even… and he was only watching about 30 minutes every day…

  21. Did you do screen free too? Like when they were in bed?

  22. I went cold turkey on television when my daughter was ten. By “cold turkey,” I mean I did not own a TV. I was pretty matter-of-fact about it and gave her plenty of choices of other things to do, so she took it in stride. Her reading rate and level shot up dramatically. In three months, she was reading Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens (a GREAT book, BTW) by herself, plus The Lord of the Rings (remember, she was ten), and a number of other good books. Instead of watching television, she and I did crafts together, read together, and played together. We went outside more, took more walks, and just plain spent a lot more time enjoying other’s company. After four years, I bought a TV again, but I never returned to having television service. Think of the thousands of dollars I’ve had to spend on other things! (Like books, of which we have way too many.) 18 years later, I still do not have television service, and I don’t miss it. We’re not digital Luddites, though. We subscribe to Netflix, we buy DVDs of our favorite movies (commercial free, of course), and we both have computers and cell phones and use them. But we neither miss nor want to watch television.

  23. We do this every July for the entire month. Family of 7, ages 5-15. We do it at our home only, they can have screen time at friends, family or, ironically, I let them check out a little time at the library. We’ve done this for four summers now and it is my FAVORITE month of the year! We modified for two teens this year to check their messages twice a day, as I do myself, it’s a necessity for sports teams and such and doesn’t at all take away from the point of not wasting all day on screens. It does take about a week to figure out how to be tech free and for the withdrawl urges to check in to subside, haha! I highly recommend!!

  24. All the research and observation I’ve done lead me to believe there’s no healthy amount of screen time for children- just as there’s no healthy amount of cigarette smoking. It (tv, screens) act on the brain much like a hypnotic drug (I’m thinking studies on brain waves of children during screen time.) Since this is the case I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect children to be able to limit, or be cooperative with us limiting, their screen time.
    On a different note-I love your blog. It’s so thoughtful, organized, and inspiring to me. Thank you

  25. I grew up without a TV and my kids have never watched a TV show, they are aged almost 5 and 2 1/2. They do a bit of iPhone and a little Youtube here and there. NEVER watched a movie. I love it. Their imagination is so pure. From my research, children up to the age of 7 should not watch TV or movies, mostly because they are living so much in the present moment. When they watch TV, they BECOME the TV.

  26. Hi. I have recently observed that my childrrn become more upset at the drop of a hat if I let them watch tv for a long time. They are angry and irritable. They get upset but when I say no tv..they understand and their minds start working. They play together. They become creative. I think its less work for us but at what price. I want to write about this in my blog and share my experiences as well. I would like to cut it out more as well.

  27. We have never had subscription TV, only what we check out from the library but recently my 8 yo returned from a friends house talking non-stop about the video game Minecraft to which she had just been introduced. I was aware of the game & didn’t have any large objections per se but I was unprepared for the instantaneous level of obsession

  28. Whoops! Accidently submitted the above comment before I was finished. The point of my Minecraft observation is that I decided to invest in a wider variety of board & card games. The kids (6 & 8) quickly got into real game play but the unexpected benefit was that their interest in screen time plummeted. Apparently Battleship is way more interesting than watching Scooby for the umpteenth time! So I highly recommend family games in addition to all the other types of creative play.

  29. Thanks for this, after seeing your examples about Dutch and his imaginative play I can see the same in my own boy after watching his dad play computer games.. all his imaginative play is around the game he had watched, plus the whining to watch more. They become full up and don’t have room to appreciate the quieter beauty inherent around us. Timely reminder and something we are addressing now!

  30. Hi Kate,

    Really appreciate your post (and enjoy following your journey). I’ve had many conversations about technology in the home with other parents over the years and I was commissioned by my local mother’s club to write an article for our newsletter in regards to my family’s relationship with technology. We are quite minimal at this point, especially given that our children are so young (5, 3 & 6 months). We don’t have cable/subscription service, no movies, no video games, no smartphones, once/twice a month nature videos on the ipad, computer use for typing and printing out photos or crafting projects.

    I’m so glad that you were able to find the right balance for you family.

    I’d love to include a link to this post in my article. Would that be ok?

    smiles, June Mee

  31. You as a parent obviously did not quit the internet since you have your blog, right? Do you do your blog after they are asleep? I’m genuinely interested because I want to raise screen free kids but honestly as a creative writer and someone trying to stay in touch with people far away through email and skype. I also find so many things to do and print etc. on the internet and it would cost much more to buy tons of magazines and workbooks instead. So in short, while there isn’t and never will be a TV or video games, there is a computer. And at an older age I would allow online research and such because like you I do believe that screens have them place.

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