A few months ago, my family (ahem...it was mostly me) decided to implement "Screen Free Sundays." No iPad, no video games, no shows or movies or youtube for a whole *gasp* day!
I made the decision to push for a screen free day for several reasons. The statistics, after all, are quite gloomy. The average 8-10 year old spends 6 hours a day in front of a screen. Yikes. It's even higher for older kids. My kids spend way less time than the *average* kid in front of a screen...we don't even have cable...but still, the desire for screen time and the fussing when transitioning from the screen back to real life were becoming an issue. And while I'm not a tech teetotaler--it's not going away, people, so we might as well learn how to coexist in a healthy way--I do believe that technology is hurting our personal skills and taking time away from more active and productive pastimes. I wanted a day to prove that not only a) we don't NEED technology, but also b) we can discover more about ourselves and each other without it...and thus, Screen Free Sunday was born.
The research is out there and I encourage you to educate yourselves about both the positive and negative aspects of technology. However, this post is not to advocate that you take on a similar practice. Your relationship with technology is personal, and I'm in no position to dictate how much screen time is right for you or your kids. And while I've seen positive effects on our family, I'm not here to talk about the evils of too much technology or even the benefits of cutting back. I'll just say that we all need to be thoughtful consumers in this brave new world.
What I want to talk about it this: my family's incorporation of a screen free day is actually a great metaphor for any kind of positive change you might attempt. First of all, it was a conscious decision. We didn't just default to a screen free day. It was fully by design that we got here.
Secondly, it was not the easier route. Let's be honest, the iPad is a great kid-sitter. While my kids are playing iPad, I don't have to worry about fights, I don't have to answer a million questions, and I can go GSD around the house. That was hard to give up.
Thirdly, this change was met with resistance. Sundays are weekend days, for goodness sakes. Shouldn't we be allowed to do whatever we want on Sundays? Can't we just relax in front of a movie? We've spent the whole week working hard and doing homework and going to karate, don't we deserve to play some video games? We don't like screen-free Sundays.
I'm imitating my kids here, but doesn't it kind of sound like your inner voice when you are trying to establish a healthy habit or new thought pattern? Our brains like to be efficient. We get addicted to the familiar, even if the familiar isn't the best for us. So we try to default back to what we know, back to the path of least resistance because change is HARD.
But here's the good news. If you really believe in the benefits of something, if you really want to make positive change, it does get easier. You start to see the payoff. What was new and hard becomes normal and familiar.
Let me tell you about yesterday. My oldest daughter was getting over the crud (fever, cough, general yuckiness), and I admit that I was tentatively planning on making an exception and allowing a movie. But alas, it wasn't necessary. My kids woke up, and immediately started playing with some of their legos. Later, they bundled up and started a really creative game of catch outside, followed by some chalk art on the driveway. My daughter felt good enough to go to a cute little Elf Academy that my town puts on, so they learned elf dances and played kazoos and decorated cupcakes there. When we got home, they wrote thank you notes to a family member, practiced piano voluntarily, made-up missed work from school, and asked to start board games as a family, which we did. Screen-free Sunday just happened. It had become our new normal.
I know this paints a very pretty picture and I'll be the first one to admit that it isn't as clean and easy as all that, but it is that simple. Change can happen if you don't give up when it gets hard. And if you push through, the fight in your brain diminishes. Soon, it takes just simple reminders to stay the course, and eventually, your brain will default to the new and better pattern.
At one point yesterday my youngest daughter, Cici, asked to see the "Christmas Fails" video we had watched earlier in the week. "It's so funny!" She said. "And it's short. Can't we watch it?"
"But it's Screen-Free Sunday," I reminded her.
"Oh right," she said, rolling her eyes a little (because she's 7 going on 17). I braced myself for begging or arguing, but she simply skipped away and rejoined her sister at whatever imaginative game they were currently playing, leaving me stunned and smiling.