Device-Free Days: It’s an Experiment

I’ve noticed that both of my children seem to have an aversion to reading. This is not something that I like to see, especially considering I’m a writer and editor, but I do understand it.

My 17-year-old son spends almost all of his free time playing computer games, either on his computer or 3DS. My 13-year-old daughter seems to be obsessed with Netflix and YouTube (and the movies on the hard drives or discs). Whenever I suggest to either one of them that they read a book, they just roll their eyes at me and chill out in their own fashion.

My husband and I aren’t much better. Every morning, my hubby is on his phone, surfing the internet and watching C-SPAN… or playing a game… or watching anime. And I spend a significant amount of time either on the computer or the tablet, writing or editing (and talking to my writing partner in the US via video chat).

So, I had the idea of going device free for one day a week: no smart phones, no tablets, no computers and no TV — and certainly NO INTERNET. The only exception to this device-free rule is Kindles — simply because not all books are in paper formats. Besides, have you ever tried to surf the internet on a Kindle? (I’m not talking about the Kindle Fire. I’m talking about the traditional Kindle that is an eBook reader only. They have an internet browser, but talk about frustrating in the extreme.)

To start encouraging the good reading and other non-technology-based habits, my husband and I decided to do this once a week, every week. We’re only one week down, and have encountered some interesting results.

The Device-Free Rule

For simplicity’s sake, we chose Fridays. It was a day that we typically don’t have anything in the evenings and things like homework and deadlines can often wait for one night. It’s rare for things to be due on Saturdays.

The rule is: no electronic devices (other than lights, cooking and cleaning stuff) are to be used within the confines of the house (and yard) from the point you get up to the time you go to bed. If you are that desperate to check your social media or email, go down the road to the coffee shop and get out of the house. This covers any issues that might result with the kids needing to use their laptops while at school (or when the hubby goes to work). Because I work from home, I’ll have set business hours that I can use my devices on Fridays — namely while the kids are at school. During the device-free time, the only device that is exempt from the rule is a Kindle.

There are a few caveats that are in place, just in case, but for the most part, the house will be a device-free zone on Fridays when everyone is home.

Week 1 met with interesting results.

So, our first week of this new household policy was the Friday after Christmas 2018.

As always, I was the first one up. All of my writing that I do in the mornings was by hand. Multiple blog post were written. Having the device-free rule did result in double handling of my writing, but at least I was writing.

My husband woke up briefly and handed me his phone, so he couldn’t rollover in bed and play games on his phone. Then he promptly went back to sleep.

My son was actually the second person out of bed. After his breakfast, he pulled out a copy of the Chronicles of Narnia and started reading The Magician’s Nephew.

“Hey mum,” and yes, he calls me mum, “this is a he said – she said fest. Did you know that?”

Umm… My daughter had said the same thing to me when she read the book four years ago (when she was 9), so yes, I already knew this.

Anyway, my son quickly got bored reading, so I offered to play a card game with him. He’s super exited that he finally managed to beat me in a game of Speed Solitaire.

It was my daughter that has caused some interesting hilarity.

I started the morning by turning off the internet router. I wanted to ensure that there was no way my children could sneak onto the internet. Yes, my daughter has a smart phone, but she’s incredibly protective of the 3G data she has available on her plan. However, I still had to take my daughter’s phone away from her. She was still trying to hide something she was doing.

“But mum, I was only listening to music.”

“Too bad, child. It’s a device-free day.”

Scowls were her response. Then the negotiations started for the computer with her dad.

“I’ll put it in my closet, because my closet door is noisy and you can hear me if I try to sneak my computer.” Don’t you just love the logic. “But I’m bored!”

Yet, in all the hilarity of my daughter trying to convince her father to give in and let her have at least one device (I’m immune to her charms), my son decided to go for a run around the block and work on his fitness. I mean, honestly, who is this person and what did they do with my son?

By 3pm, my daughter had finally managed to con her way into getting her phone and a pair of headphones from my husband. She wanted to listen to her music while she was drawing. The internet was still off, and she was in eyesight of my husband the entire time. She was legitimately listening to music. At least it wasn’t the TV.

Then I hit a snag of my own. I had this burning desire to actually look back over some of my writing on my current manuscript, but I couldn’t, because to do so would have meant booting up the computer or turning on the tablet.

Note to self: Thursday nights, compile the latest version of my manuscript into a MOBI file and upload it to my Kindle. Remember that Kindles are excluded from this new device-free rule.

After dinner, my husband tried to break the device-free pact. “Shall we just let the kids watch a movie?” But I heard the underlying question: can I watch some anime on my phone?

“No. Family game.”

He smiled and scowled at the same time. It was such an odd expression, but the decision had been made and he stuck to it.

Four rounds of “Poo” later (it’s a hilarious card game where you fling poo your opponents; the object is to remain the cleanest), and lots of laughs, it was late at night and bedtime for all.

Saturday morning hit, and the kids where diving back onto their devices. It was to be expected, but I think the family did well all things considered.

At dinner time on Saturday, my husband admitted that the device-free day was torture for him, but he could see the benefits of continuing the practice. There was a whole conversation about who actually managed to last the day without going onto a device of any kind. My daughter insisted that she survived — until we all reminded her about the stereo she turned on and the phone she managed to weasel out of her father.

When I asked if we should keep up the practice weekly, guess who was against the idea.

The Experiment Will Continue

I knew that this device-free thing was going to be rough. I knew I was facing a culture that had developed in the house, but it’s that culture that I want to change. This will take time before it’s fully accepted, but I believe that for a first week, we’re not off to a bad start.

My son was playing card games most of the day, but took some time to work on his fitness too. My daughter actually opened one of her art books and began drawing again (something that I haven’t seen her do for some time). My husband got engrossed in the book on Neil Armstrong that I bought him for Christmas. And I actually got some blog posts and handouts for Black Wolf planned out.

I’ll keep everyone posted on how the experiment progresses.

P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2018

Posted in Device-Free Experiment, Family Life, Parenting and tagged , , , , .

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