Every summer, we pick one week to go screen-free. For one week, I get to see my children’s faces as opposed to the tops of their heads. I speak to them and they reply with words, not grunts or silence. Their moods improve; they become more pleasant people. My kids always greet the week with lots of grumbling and groaning, but I secretly—and then not so secretly—look forward to becoming reacquainted with the kids I know are buried behind those devices the other fifty-one weeks of the year.
Each year, we spell out the rules in advance for Screen-Free Week. There are a few reasons for this. First, everyone knows that given the motivation, the vast majority of kids transform into brilliant lawyers. Absent explicit rules accompanying a prohibition, kids will find every loophole imaginable to get around that prohibition. Second, we establish valid exceptions that change from year-to-year, and we try to anticipate as many of those as we can to avoid constant choruses of, “What about…? What about…? What about…?” Third, following all of that forethought, we accept that although the kid-lawyers are smarter than we are and will find ways around us no matter what we do, we’re nevertheless going to try our best and anticipate that the week will end well.
In case you’d find an example informative in the course of trying your own screen-free week (with exceptions, natch), here are the rules governing ours for 2016. Keep in mind that our kids are 14 and 11; age and personality obviously influence the rules. And yes, parents: my husband and I have to adhere to these rules, too (although you’ll see that they play out differently for us).
Definition: what is a screen? Computers, phones, iPods, TVs, tablets and anything digital I’ve forgotten to mention.
- Anything academic or work-related;
- Checking the weather (limited to twice daily after one of the kids talked about it too much to be trustworthy);
- Checking/adding to/editing calendars;
- Certain other organizational functions, like making a to-do list if you customarily do this in an app;
- No more than 15 minutes each day texting with friends, because texting is the new phone call and the purpose of this whole endeavor does not include cutting the kids off from their friends; and
- It’s OK to check email, especially for the adults, because some email must be dealt with and no one should be forced to face over 700 emails at the end of the week.
Explicit bans just to be clear:
- Mom can only go on Twitter to say she won’t be on Twitter and to promote her work/briefly be polite/supportive to others while she’s there. (This one is already giving me the shakes.)
- Using a screen because Donald Trump did something stupid is not an acceptable exception. The whole point of the week is to experience what it’s like NOT to stare at screens all of the time.
So if you’re looking for me this week, I won’t be here. Well, I’ll be here in the physical sense, but I won’t be here in the digital sense. In 2016, does that even count? If a tree falls in an empty Twitter account… Never mind.
But please do come by and let me know if anything important happens, like Trump drops Mike Pence in favor of Ryan Lochte for the number two spot on the ticket. In exchange, I’ll be back next week to let you know how this year’s Screen-Free Week turned out.