Some of you asked for updates on my summer experiment to eliminate or limit access to electronics for my kids. Here is my first update, two weeks after we first began.
So far, I would consider our experiment to be an unqualified success. To summarize our experience so far, my kids have complained less about being bored, they’ve been very self-entertained, they’ve read more, played outside more, and played with their toys much more.
My theory on why they’ve been bored less often is this: When you play with electronics, you get immediate feedback, immediate gratification. When you read books, play with toys, or go outside and use your imagination, you have to do a bit more work. You’re actively using your brain instead of passively using it. (I know, some may argue that some websites or video games actively use your brain, but generally, my words hold true.) So now that my son isn’t receiving instant gratification all the time, when he has a moment with nothing to do, he isn’t instantly trying to fill it with something else. Instead, he goes looking for something on his own. If we’re out and about, he’ll be silly with his sister instead of complaining about wanting to use an iThing. And he goes straight to a book when he feels there is nothing else to do.
My son, even before we started our (mostly) electronics-free summer, declared that he wanted to go the whole time period without electronics, skipping his 10 available electronic days. (But this was after he asked me if he’d get some kind of bonus if he managed it.) I said I’d come up with some kind of reward. He asked for something involving candy. I said that if he went 59 days without any electronics, he would deserve it. He doesn’t seem to have much problem sticking with this, either. The power of choice has amazing effects. Since he is choosing to skip all the days, it isn’t a rule I’ve imposed on him but rather one he chose for himself. So we’ll see if he makes it. There may be a Whitman’s Sampler box in his future.
However: My son also has been asking a lot of clarifying questions about what qualifies as an electronic. The phone? A camera? Radio? Records? MP3 player? What if we’re at someone’s house and they’re watching a movie?
Some of these were easy to clarify. Of course a camera is fine, so are the radio and records. An MP3 player — hmm. Listening to music with earbuds tends to isolate you, and that’s one of the things I am trying to minimize with this project. So I said that about 30 minutes at a time with an MP3 player is fine. As for being over at someone’s house where they are watching something, well, just try not to watch. My kids are mostly self-policing in this arena, but they do often get sucked into the screen without meaning to, so I have to keep paying attention. And there has been some negotiation. He has asked about certain situations where he’d want to use electronics. Would they count? Of course they would. My boy is a frequent negotiator, but is taking my answers in stride. He wants a set of rules to follow, boundaries to stay within. I’m happy to supply them.
But he also asks me to bend the rules for certain things, such as watching Khan Academy videos. He loves these videos, and laughs out loud at each one. It’s hard for me to say no to him wanting to educate himself on some topic, but these would blatantly violate our “no electronics” rule. He thinks he should get to watch the videos without using up one of his days. I’m torn on this issue, but I’m leaning toward continuing to say that they still count as an electronic activity. I’m trying to give my kids a break from staring at a screen. What say you, GeekDad readers? Should Khan Academy videos, and similar educational electronic activities, count as electronics? Or do you agree with me, that they should still count?
My daughter has had no problems sticking to the plan. This is how she prefers things, with the house being quiet, and with her brother being more available for play. When they did use electronics, she would definitely indulge occasionally, but electronics have never been her go-to activity. She is considering spending some of her days to watch the Lord of the Rings movies with her dad, however.
Here are some examples of what the kids have been spending their time doing:
- Building elaborate train patterns.
- Learning to play Gin with his sister and a friend.
- Playing board games.
- Reading, reading, and more reading.
- Building a Kapla Block tower as tall as she is (she’s over five feet tall now).
- Making crafts.
- Building forts.
- Building a Lego castle, among other creations.
- Playing board games.
- Reading books.
They’re both playing outside more and playing board games that they haven’t touched in months or years. Lots and lots of board games.
But reading has been king around here. A trip to the library was followed by two solid days of book reading from my son, and quite a lot from my daughter as well. So a good tip for anyone trying this at home — frequent visits to your local library not only fill your time with a non-electronic activity, but allowing your kids to rotate their library book stock will always give them something new to read. Most libraries also have summer reading programs, and oftentimes programs during the school year as well. There are usually other special summer activities at the library, too. Ours has a special weekly art program, puppet shows, visiting authors, and many other things.
Random anecdote: I was at a friend’s house the other day, and there were plenty of kids there. Some of them were playing a video game, or watching the others play. It was amusing to me to see their faces. They all had their mouths hanging halfway open, and were staring at the television, their only bodily movement to press some buttons on the controller, if they were even the ones playing. Attempts to communicate with them weren’t usually successful. My kids were in another room, wrestling and having a good time. They kids did eventually stop playing the video game and play together, but it took some doing.
I’m thinking that once we reach August and the end of this experiment, I will impose a new set of rules about electronics. We won’t shut them out completely, especially since we use them quite a lot in homeschooling, but perhaps we will have certain days or certain times when they are off limits. Or perhaps they’ll get a certain number of days each week for electronics that they’re allowed to spend as they like.
I will check back in with you all in a few weeks for another update. I’d say to wish us luck, but I think we’ll do just fine. On a daily basis, my kids are lost in the world of books.