When my kids were younger and other parents complained about screen battles in their homes, I’ll admit I felt a little superior. We had less screen time than most, and I was proud of it. Then, the Chromebooks arrived. It was innocent enough at first, as I would guess was the very first Tribble on the Starship Enterprise. My three boys needed devices for homework and for watching shows on long international flights. But once the screens had a foothold and as naturally as records gave way to CDs, iPads replaced the Chromebooks and soon dragged smartphones in the door. It was then that any sense I had of “doing screens perfectly” concluded. We became just another family fighting over screens.
Over the years, with the different ages and stages of our kids and our lives, we’ve taken a hill or two in the cause of fewer screens and then lost ground again in the battle. The effort has been complicated, naturally, by the slightly differing opinions of me and my husband as a couple (think one vote for Amish and one vote for Apple).
We’ve tried apps, rules, and lockboxes with varying levels of success and alignment. But one thing we have agreed on, in perfect unison, is actually my favourite screen rule: Screen-Free Sundays.
Our Sundays start on Saturday night—if I remember to take all the screens away before everyone goes to sleep—or more often, they begin on Sunday morning, when I see the first child hunched over something illuminated and remind them, “It’s a screen-free day.” And they hand it over or put it away. (My oldest is a month from turning 18 but still begrudgingly complies.)
This moment of surrender leads to a hum of grumbles but then ebbs into a kind of quiet—an extended moment of rediscovering the subtle direction of boredom and the low-dopamine options for the day.
I must say that my own surrender into this groove is no less difficult. Weekends are good times for doing the budget and catching up on personal online tasks, and I’m known for taking a weekday off in exchange for some weekend work. But the real story is that I have a high natural addiction to my own screens. As much as I believe in our Screen-Free Sundays, I also find them more than a little hard. That digital itch is always there, reminding me of the happy high to be found in a short search for hippie jewellery, looking up the right recipe for the perfect Key lime pie, or whispering to me seductively to watch Netflix. I do my best to ignore them all and follow my kids down into the realm of old-fashion fun.
Inevitably, the magical moment happens. It’s so predictable and delightful that my husband and I end up sharing a knowing glance every time. They suddenly find the groove of real-world play.
On a recent Sunday, I observed the following progression.
Our boys, who lately have spent less time together as a unit, stood together as if they had just woken from a long sleep. And then one had an idea. First, they got a piece of foam board from the garage and threw playing cards at it, getting the cards to stick into the board from the force of spinning toward it. Then they embarked on an ambitious cooking project—pasta with two unique cream sauces (of their own invention), one chocolate-infused and the other jelly-based, neither of which was close to palatable. Still hanging out together, they then settled into a game of Apples to Apples.
In keeping with the spirit of the day, during dinner, a playful moment arose. My youngest attempted to balance three blueberries atop the butter dish. My competitive eldest took on the challenge to best him. My husband, sensing an opportunity, playfully wagered, “Thirty dollars if you can stack five.” The game was on. The winner managed to balance seven blueberries, and then they went on to try stacking edamame beans, raspberries, and even batteries. The Sunday conversation around schedules, school events, and homework could wait another day.
These days are not perfect, and we make exceptions, but they serve a critical purpose in our building a life fully lived. There is a finite number of times that we will all be here, around this table together—and Screen-Free Sundays help me remember that fact so that I embrace every moment. They connect us and reawaken us to ourselves.
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Many people have asked me why we are so strict about screen time. (They read my writings and tend to miss the many, many ways we have become imperfectly typical as the boys left their kid years behind.) But the main reason we try isn’t about screen time per se. The main thrust of our boundary setting isn’t about the fear of the damage screens will do. It’s because of the opportunity costs. It’s because of the many lovely, subtle moments and deeper, passionate explorations that would all go untried if we didn’t force a little healthy emptiness.
Screen-free days will not reshape our future. Rather, they serve as a gentle reminder that the real world will never fail to surprise and delight if we just give it a chance.
This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn