Going Entertainment Screen Free

I got tired of it. We quit screens almost a month ago.

Well… not quite. I just plainly and simply got tired of the questions about when screen time would happen everyday and the moodiness when screens have to be turned off. It’s not an experiment. It’s not Screen Free Week. It’s permanent. Our kids are entertainment screen free. 

We still use a Google calendar to organize our schedules, meals, and chores. We still communicate with smartphones. We do FaceTime and Facebook because all of our family is out of state, and we love to share photos, videos, and family updates. My husband and I run 2-3 businesses and our household finances from our home office. The kids have homework on the school-issued iPads (but I’m still not sure computers aren’t actually keeping my kids from learning and privacy becomes an issue at a younger age). We have one Smart TV in the basement, and we still allow it to issue music that fills our home. My husband audio streams Royals games on his MLB App. Mommy and Papa watch Fear the Walking Dead on Monday nights after the kids are sleeping.

Other than that (which is more than any generation before has used screens to organize their lives), we’re screen free. We pay for Netflix and Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime, but we don’t watch them much as adults anymore. The kids don’t watch them at all – although I’m sure, someday, we will have a movie night. We don’t have iPad games. We read real books with pages and binding. My husband and I talk. We see each other. We look at each other, not sitting side by side looking at a screen.

The kids play – inside, outside, in the heat, the cold, the dirt, and then they come inside ready to settle 11990504_10156006325895316_7033752510532274711_ndown. They’re hungry for dinner because they play, so there’s less complaining at the table. They’re tired. They fall asleep between 7:30 and 8 p.m. because they have used up all their energy.

It’s impossible for me to keep our kids screen-free, particularly since the school system is now issuing 1:1 iPads:students. The school decided to give my children their own devices before I did. And while I could bemoan the schools’ lack of respect for parents’ desires to limit screen use, that would be unproductive. My children will use devices in ways I cannot fathom. I am not going to be able to refuse them screens; it’s not realistic, nor is it helpful – they need to be able to function within our cultural standards for the workplace, school, and socializing.

We don’t use screen time as positive or negative reinforcement for behavior (such as taking away a phone, iPad or TV time) because none of the kids’ offenses have anything to do with screens, and I don’t want to allow screens to have that kind of currency in their lives.

The real reason we went entertainment screen free? Everyone in our family is kinder, more calm, and more empathetic, more sensitive to each others’ non-verbal cues. Without screen entertainment, we are all more creative, more imaginative.

Several months ago, I read through this study, “Computers in Human Behavior,” which asserts:

This study provides evidence that, in five days of being limited to in-person interaction without access to any screen-based or media device for communication, preteens improved on measures of nonverbal emotion understanding, significantly more than a control group… Accordingly, the results suggest that digital screen time, even when used for social interaction, could reduce time spent developing skills in reading nonverbal cues of human emotion.

This study is just one of a large and growing body of research that asserts screens are correlated with lower levels of empathy in humans. Neuroscientist, Dr. Gary Small wrote iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. Without having to buy the book, it’s helpful to use the Look Inside feature on Amazon to check this book out. Just a peek through the table of contents will get you thinking about the nuances of everything we need to guide our children through by the time they’re 18… tech addiction, socializing, behavioral issues associated with screens, privacy, politics/economics/culture online. More: here (screens make kids moody and lazy), here (screens mess with kids’ social skills), here (screens can cause emotional harm), here (overstimulating a child’s brain is as bad or worse than neglecting it).

I don’t care whether my kids get straight A’s or become the frontrunners in their extracurricular activities. By the time they launch, I want my kids to understand compassion. I want them to be empathetic. Not only do I see empirical evidence that screens are in direct conflict with my first goal, I also see first-hand that my kids are kinder to each other and to their parents without screen time. We are a case study in screens versus no screens. Sure, there are lists of all the healthy reasons to unplug, but there are also healthy reasons to plug in. As a member of the online mom community, I feel less lonely at times when the only language spoken in my house is baby babble.

Just one reason to have an entertainment screen free home is good enough for me: I want empathetic kids. Goodbye, Netflix.

Vanessa Knight has been a part of the Kansas City community for 11 years (a native Texan), living in the Overland Park area with husband Josh, two children (Sophie is 6, Jude is 5), and three Labradors. A clinical marriage and family counselor serving the area, Vanessa works with those who hurt from life experiences, relationships or trauma, helping both individuals and families to love (www.securecounselingclinic.com). When she's not working, Vanessa's favorite stay-at-home things are Sequence, puzzles, picnics on the Nelson-Atkins Museum lawn, messy art projects, and trampoline jumping!