The Art of the Screen Fast

screenfastWe are finally on the other side of the virus that lasted forever. I’ve never cleaned up so much sick in all my years of motherhood. But we are well and it’s time for my annual purge of closets, books, toys and television/screen time.

You’ll see why I combine all of these when I give you the outline for a screen fast in a couple minutes. (I’m not insane. No sane person would do all this at the same time, but there’s an advantage to purging and fasting.)

My Philosophy on Screen Time

My kids don’t get video games, and they don’t get much iPad time either. I firmly believe they have better things to do like – play.

We go a lot and I believe children need time outside and freedom to pretend and make messes and just be kids. I find we don’t read as much when I use the TV to get stuff done. I find that we get a little bit lazy and the attitudes get a little testy when there’s a lot of screen time.

Yes, I do let my kids watch TV when I need to get stuff done. It’s sometimes necessary when you work at home and hubby works out of town a lot. But it’s all a balance.

I let my kids have limited access to iPads when I need to focus on a task with another child. But we haven’t charged any of the three we own in nearly a month. Not charging them and keeping them out of sight is very helpful in keeping them from taking over kids’ lives.

I do think educational apps can help with math practice, Bible reading and preschool skills, but only in very short spurts.

My Breaking Point With Screen Time

I decided it was time for our annual fast after after hearing my 4-year-old whine about wanting to go home for the hundredth time from our little getaway paired with a dance competition.

When I see obsession, I think it’s time to get them reset on what’s important – relationships, good books, lots of outside time and working with their hands (water play, play dough, art, etc.).

In just a couple short weeks, it’s going to be hotter than a sweaty toddler falling asleep on your arm. It’s spring and we’re going to enjoy it. We get this amazing weather just 6-8 weeks per year.

This Year’s Fallout (So Far)

So Day 1 was not my proudest day as a mother. We’d just gotten in from a long weekend away two weekends in a row. That’s a lot for an introvert. And all my kids wanted to do was WATCH TV. So, I did what any good mother would do, I didn’t give in, but I got frustrated. I might have yelled at a child to go to sleep already. Then I apologized. It’s hard to detox.

My 8-year-old is really good at winding everyone in the house up right about bedtime and then getting needy. Please tell me there’s someone who relates to this. She is a.piece.of.work.

She wanted me to ditch her siblings to spend time with her. I told her if she’d stop whining while I got them to bed, I’d read her a bedtime story from our current read aloud – Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales (aff link).

We read several of the tales every April. We’ve read most of the tales and I definitely prefer the bunny tales over all the mentions of rats in the Tabitha Twitchit stories.

Big Girl decided on a rat story, of course, The Tale of Samuel Whiskers. To my credit, that sounds like a cat, but no, Samuel Whiskers is a rat who wants to eat kittens. This is not good pre-bed material for those with wild imaginations.

But we ended the day with connection to each other and a story and not a device or a show. I say that’s a win for the day.

How to Prep for a Screen Fast

A screen fast doesn’t require a lot of planning, but it does require a few things:

  • Frustration with how things are right now.
  • A five-day food cleanse for mama (Just kidding, I’m doing this coincidentally alongside my kid screen detox. Pray for me.)
  • A commitment to be present with your kids while they adjust to the new normal.
  • Understanding that you will get pushback from your kids and a willingness to not take it personally.
  • A lightened schedule and nice weather help a lot with the timing of your fast. I waited until we were done with our major activities for the school year to do our fast. I have done one of these in January in a cabin in the woods. (I REALLY don’t recommend this approach.)

The How-To Survive the Fast Guide

  1. Get really fed up with the bad attitudes in your house. Seriously, I have to have some serious ammo to not cave. Bad attitudes really help motivate me. I know this is a symptom of too much electronic connection and not enough people connection.
  2. Start cleaning closets like a mad woman. Dig through the closets for art supplies, toys that have been in hiding for some time (like the box I forgot to unpack from Christmas) and project kits you never completed. You get bonus points if you find chocolate from stockings you didn’t empty (I did!). These “finds” will be your saving grace for when you want to cave in on the screen.
  3. Be ready to just pack up lunch and go to the park. This will give you cool points as a mom anyway, but it really helps when the toddlers are begging with those cute, chubby fingers for “just one show.” A small bag of potato chips and possibly one of those little hidden chocolates can help diffuse the situation long enough to pack some food and get them out the door.
  4. Be ready for the cute excuses. My 4-year-old was really good this morning, “It helps me calm down to watch Blaze.” I confess that I let him watch two episodes of Blaze so I could get ready for our housekeeper coming and get the big girl out the door for her field trip. But after that I was ready for him.
  5. Get a big bunch of books from the library. This is my secret weapon. My oldest was super frustrated with me because I wouldn’t let her stay up late and watch a movie last night. So, she huffed and she puffed and she listened to me read a couple of Mo Willems books to the littles from the other room. She stealthily snuck in and grabbed them. When I went to check on her, I found she’d read about seven or eight picture books. Pretty good for the child who says she doesn’t like to read.
  6. Print one of those Pinterest lists of 100 things to do besides watch TV. I tape them to popsicle sticks and put them in a can. Then, when they get really whiny, I tell them to go pull a stick. That usually leads to an activity or a new list of things to do when you’re bored.
  7. Use audio books to your advantage. We LOVE audio books in our house and we’ll often linger over lunch. Our favorite app is Scribd because they have an unlimited section of kids books. We also have quite a few classics on Audible (aff link) because Daddy likes kids’ fiction. You can also find a great guide for getting them cheap at ReadAloudRevival.com.
  8. Let them earn some screen time. (I only recommend this for older kids because they get it.) My oldest and I started watching War Room the other night and she wanted to finish it tonight. Y’all she washed the sink, swept the floor and mopped WITHOUT BEING ASKED. I let her watch it and she was passed out before 9:15.
  9. Plan a celebration. This is super simple. Just go out for ice cream or snow cones when you make it a week without screens ruling your free time.

I hope this idea is a blessing to you and your kids. You’ll gain some incredible memories when you step away and connect with your kids. And you’ll have a more peaceful summer. Cheers to you, Mama.

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