The Screen Free Kid



About a month and a half ago I decided that screens were no longer going to be part of my son’s life.

Before I was a father I’d long watched other parents and theorized, with the ease that a third row seat allows, how I would go about parenting.  One thing I knew was that screens seemed to be a net negative for children.  From seeing their heads buried on screens in waiting rooms to the fits that erupted when screen time was over it just didn’t seem like the right way for children to grow up.  I had grown up in fields and forests, streams and rivers – this is what I wanted for my son Maverick.  Ultimately it was only when he was six that I could see that this wasn’t happening.  Unless I lead the activity Mav showed no desire to play outside.  He had even begun to show less inclination to play Lego.  His stories, long filled with wonder about the snakes in the garden or the rocks on the driveway had turned into stories about characters I’d never heard of but realized were introduced by friends and then searched on his tablet.  Skivvy Toilet, the Rainbow Friends, and Roblox robots were the subjects of his conversation.  While talking about rocks in the driveway was getting hard to maintain interest in I was mortified to have to engage in a conversation about the Skivvy Toilet (I’m still not 100% sure what that is!).

So, the time was really truly now – not next week, next month, or even tomorrow.  It was now.

I cut the internet to our home by putting a power on/off switch on the router.  My own internet was now limited to before he woke up in the morning and after he went to bed.  My TV watching became as limited as his – a Saturday evening movie which we rent from the local store.

Was this easy to do? NOT IN THE LEAST!

Here’s some honesty about the things that drove me nuts:

  • Constant (and I mean constant) chatter from my son.  None stop.  I became, for the first 20 days or so, his one and only source of entertainment (I am a single father and he’s an only child).  He followed me around. He no longer had a thing he could do independently – I had to teach these things (see the next paragraph).
  • I was exhausted because I too did not have the ‘escape time’, that the screens provide during our day.
  • Road trips – we do quite a few for my job… the first one was almost enough to kill us both without a screen to veg out on.  He cried. He was unruly.  We bickered. We eventually got there.

What it has been like:

  • First, I had to teach my son how to play again.  I had to get down and build Legos. I had to take part in drawing things (fact – I HATE any form of artwork but had to grin and bear it).
  • I had to put myself outside – for hours at a time – to ensure that his boredom drew him outside.  Then, I enjoyed showing him our rivers (again), building some forts, and, as a 6 year old will demand, watching him do “tricks” and “new courses” on this bicycle.
  • He had to realize that real progress wasn’t instant like on the screen.  He fell on his bicycle ramp time and time again and “quit biking forever” on more than one occasion.  Eventually he learned how to pick himself up and try again on his own.  He’s now proud of his scrapes and bruises.

Last night we drove for over three hours.  For the first time in memory Mav looked out the window.  He watched the world – he theorized about farms and houses and growing towns.  Exhausting yet again (no podcasts for me!) but truly fantastic.

One day about a week ago he came outside with me.  He left the house as I did.  And he played outside for three hours.  He still won’t play outside without me there, but that’s my next goal.

What was surprising?

I got a LOT done.  And by a lot I mean A LOT.  My whole summer’s project list is now down to two projects from the twelve it had six weeks ago.  Being released from the screen meant being released back in to life.

This is my first blog – I have emailed it to my teacher friends and allowed them to post it.  If you want to hear more about how it’s going please just comment wherever you see this post.  I’d be happy to continue writing, before or after my son goes to bed, to let you know what it’s like committing to a screen free kid (except that Saturday night movie!) in 2023!