Disconnecting Brings Greater Family Connection

We realized we might just have a tech addict on our hands when we found our five-year old moaning: “tablet, tablet, TAAAAAABLET!” regularly on those lazy weekend mornings, as we tried to pull him off his game to get ready for the day.

On a sunny weekend like the last one, it’s easy to go screen-free, to kick the kids off their devices and tell them (what our mothers used to say) ‘go play outside!’ But when it’s rainy and no friends are available and you have things to get done (which are so much easier when the kids are out of your hair); it’s so simple to let the tablet or play-station or Netflix lull them into submission while we take care of business. This is ok some of the time but as parents, my husband and I have realized that we need to be careful not to use screens as a crutch.

Working in the health promotion field, my kids have their screen-time limited during the school week and we try to keep within the 2 hours per day as recommended by pediatricians (with some exceptions – like long travel days or family movie night). But after noticing our little guy’s unhealthy obsession, we decided to take the Screen Free Week concept and kick it up a notch.

Our family now starts each month with seven days devoid of non-school, non-work related computer/TV time. Our kids are already very active but even still, we find ourselves making more time for outdoor play. This last one with such nice weather, we worked on a play fort, played basketball, catch, street hockey and rode bikes. And my five year-old rejoiced in one of the big milestones of childhood – learning to ride without training wheels!

But it’s not just about physical activity, it’s also about making time for activities that help to improve their social interactions and expand their imaginations.

Our winter screen free weeks, include more board games and pillow forts and sometimes rainy forest hikes (because once you’re out there under the trees, it’s all good). My boys – who have a five year age difference – also play more together (and seeing that is my reward). Recently they’ve become fascinated in Rube Goldberg machines which leads to some very creative use of marble runs, hot wheels and Lego (talk about experiential learning!)

Not that it’s all happy fun-times. There are challenges. My kids play more together which unfortunately leads to more arguments (and the constant refereeing is exhausting). It also requires some discipline as we have to role-model the behaviour we want from our children. So we have to look at our own tech addictions and wean ourselves off of constant connectivity and compulsive surfing.

This year, Screen Free Week is from May 4th – 10th. I encourage you to give it a try and have a few tips for success:

  • Let your kids know at least one week in advance so they get used to the idea (and you can get the temper tantrums out of the way).
  • Most importantly, engage them in a discussion about the types of activities you are going to do independently and together during the week.
  • As a parent, make sure you have a few tricks up your sleeve – indoor and outdoor (a new book, magazine, craft or game to break out or plan a fun trip – even if it’s just out for an ice cream cone).
  • Find the silver lining –turn this into an opportunity to do all those things that there’s never enough time to do. Think about a project, your kids have been asking to do (we’ve made air rockets and are now building a backyard play fort ).

FINALLY… be prepared to have fun! There will be rough moments but they will pass and the rewards are giggles and the spark that comes from the discovery of a new skill, talent or thrill.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications

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