Last Monday we got an email from Max's school. They were encouraging families to participate in "Screen-Free" week. As I encouraged the boys to give up their 30 minutes a day, Dan jumped in and said that we could all do it.
My first thought? Panic. Serious panic.
Because, far worse than my boys, I am a screen addict. From the hour or two of TV at the end of the day to the hours spend on the computer, large parts of my life revolve around a monitor of one sort or another. And if it isn't the tv or computer, it's the iphone - a screen I always have with me, and one that has become my personal security blanket.
But I agreed. I could do it. It was only a week. And we did make the caveat that we could continue to check email.
The first couple of days were the hardest. And I did cheat one afternoon when I needed to make doctor, dentist, and hair appointments, and all the phone numbers (as well as my calendar) were online. And I cheated again on Saturday when the recipe I needed was on a Pinterest board. But other than that, I held true to my word. So what did I learn in the last week?
1. I am a creature of habit. In the cars line at school pick-up, the first thing I did was reach for my phone. When the boys went to bed at night, I almost automatically went to my chair next to the laptop and in front of the tv. I spend a lot of time NOT thinking about what I am doing, but just following routine. That is a habit I need to break.
2. My life is very plugged in. My social life, my work life, and even the tools I need to manage my household all involve an internet connection. In many ways it makes my days easier, and I rarely stop to appreciate the conveniences our life affords me. Screens aren't all bad.
3. Without screen-time, I have more time for other things I love. I read a book, knitted, played board games, cleaned house, and prepared for the next day instead of scrambling at the last minute. While computer time or a great movie can be satisfying, there are many other things I could be doing for even greater satisfaction.
4. I felt like I actually SAW my children more. And not just because they weren't watching TV. But without all of the distractions of screens, there was more time to notice the adorable freckles on Luke's nose and talk with Max about his newly-discovered enjoyment of baseball.
5. It's easier to be screen-free when it's nice outside. We had the most beautiful, summer-like weather all week, and really, none of us wanted to be indoors. Sitting out on the deck or riding bikes in the driveway, the time passed outside. I think we all would have struggled more with this week if it were cold and rainy.
6. Screen-free didn't mean less busy. Our schedules didn't magically open up into vast oceans of time to explore and craft and play. We still had soccer and meetings, gym time and school work. So going screen-free doesn't solve every ill. Life doesn't automatically become a idyllic oasis or calm.
7. But being screen-free did lead to less fighting. Since they had more time to play together, the boys fought less so they wouldn't have to play alone. And I fought with them less since they got more of my focused attention. Our house was more peaceful.
Overall, I'd have to say the week was a great experiment. Mostly for me. The boys are eager to be able to watch their 30 minutes a day again, but I am feeling a little less excited to return to old habits. It was a wonderful time to re-calibrate, look at how we are spending our time, and find ways to be more intentional. My facebook newsfeed doesn't hold the same appeal when weighed directly against a great book or backyard soccer game. After spending an hour today catching up, it was easy to close the computer and walk away. And after taking this few minutes to record my thoughts here tonight, I'm looking forward to turning the computer off and heading for an early bed time.
Are we throwing away the computers, phones and tv? No. But maybe, for a while at least, they'll play a smaller role in the life we want to be living.