Making Time For Screen-Free Activities
By Jessica Eyre
It’s not like we don’t ever spend time together as a family. We go to movies, we go swimming. In the winter we have lunch at the mall food court and browse through the kids’ favorite stores: Claire’s Boutique to look at all kinds of accessories and giant displays of stuffed animals and Hot Topic for the latest in their Funko Pop collection. We do lots of screen-free activities!
But we are living in the modern world, and dedicated time for thoughtful discussions is difficult to come by, and it often has to be done on purpose, which doesn’t do much for organic conversations.
So, on a Sunday afternoon, when I was in my room reading a book, I found myself eavesdropping on my husband and 7-year-old Lucy, who were playing with Barbie dolls in her bedroom across the hall. But it wasn’t the typical Barbie banter about going to parties or boyfriends or changing outfits and hairdos. They had turned on some slow music so the Barbies could dance, and the conversation turned to much more personal, thoughtful topics.
In a society that is full of digital activities, from the most frivolous apps and video games to educational math games and websites, we tend to fill much of the space between the have-to activities like school and work, and the need-to activities like mealtime and house chores with time spent in front of a screen. So when does that leave time for talking?
Today, American families spend more than 31 hours watching television each week. The average time spent weekly with each other screen free? A stark 38 minutes.
So how do we increase those minutes to even a couple of hours a week? Here are three suggestions for getting more screen-free time with your family.
Make a tradition out of talking
We have lots of things that make up the routine of a typical week. Make sure talking is one of them. Pick an activity that promotes talking that can easily be incorporated into your regular week. Maybe it’s starting bedtime routine 10 minutes earlier than usual and chatting in the dark as you tuck in your child. Kenneth Barish, Ph.D., suggests setting aside 10 minutes every day for just talking. This can be a time to talk about things your children or spouse are looking forward to or nervous about, achievements or disappointments.
Try setting a weekly time, such as an hour on Sunday, to work on a puzzle or play a game. Engaging in a quiet activity that not only encourages interaction but requires it has great potential, especially over time, to be the source of many meaningful conversations.
Get out and do something
If video games and television are too much of a temptation, plan time daily or weekly to get out of the house and do something together. Even a simple walk around the neighborhood is a great way to be free of distraction and open up opportunities for good conversation.
Find something your family enjoys doing together, like roller skating or bowling, or try something new everyone can learn. Maybe a pottery class, the driving range, cooking lessons. Just stay out of the movie theater or somewhere that isn’t conducive to lots of interactions.
Dedicate daily screen-free time
If your family isn’t used to these kinds of activities, they can feel a little forced and unnatural. So instead of instituting a particular activity, simply dedicate a specific daily timeframe that is free of screens, from phones and handheld devices to TVs.
Everyone can feel free to do whatever they want during that time. Maybe it’s reading, writing, playing with toys, making a craft. Whatever the activity, this time gives you an opportunity to join in or ask them about it afterward. This could be a time to relax or spend some time on a hobby or passion that tends to get neglected.
And if you really want to jumpstart a break in screen time, try participating in Screen-Free Week, this year slated for April 29-May 5. Screen-Free Week is about taking a break from digital entertainment, with exceptions only for work and school.
Cal Newport, computer scientist and author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” said the smartphone has evolved and changed everything about our daily lives.
“Under what I call the ‘constant companion model,’ we now see our smartphones as always-on portals to information. Instead of improving activities that we found important before this technology existed, this model changes what we pay attention to in the first place — often in ways designed to benefit the stock price of attention-economy conglomerates, not our satisfaction and well-being.”
While it may not be realistic to put our phones and screens away all the time (Who doesn’t need a quick game of Candy Crush now and again?), it’s important to make sure that it’s not killing off all our free time to interact with one another as a family.
Jessica Eyre is a writer and marketing strategist. She loves movies, going to see live music, and has a firm belief that most any life situation can be related to an episode of “Seinfeld.” She is a mother who does her best “I’m interested” face when hearing about the latest YouTube video her kids want to re-enact for her, and yet, at the same time, finds them to be the most interesting people she knows.