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What happened when we restricted electronics for nine weeks

Short story: we survived.

Sorry for the click baity headline. We more than survived. My kid raised his grades, took an interest in two new outdoor activities and learned he can survive without electronics.

If you’re expecting a “screens-are-bad” blog post you can share with your mom-friends and make them feel extra guilty for allowing their six-year-old to watch YouTube videos or play Minecraft, go on back to what you were doing. This is not the blog for you.

Should you, however, need confirmation you’re not alone in your desire to strike a balance between our real world and the digital world where our kids live, read on. We could be friends.

Reality check: screens, video games, social media -- it’s all here to stay. In fact, depriving your child of screens completely makes them ill-prepared for college or the workforce. Imagine a seventeen-year-old who has never operated a computer attempting to apply to college. Don’t you feel better that your child can operate your smartphone?

But I digress. This blog was supposed to be about how my husband and I discovered ourselves at our wits end a week before spring break last year.

There we were days away from a much anticipated trip to Texas, blissfully unaware our eldest child mentally checked out of school two weeks earlier. An email from a teacher alerted us to the issue and a review of his grades revealed a downward spiral overall. Everyone agreed my kid is fully capable of straight As, he just stopped doing the work. As parents, it’s our responsibility to draw his attention to what is most important. We created some big consequences: no electronics until his grades improved. We also restricted recreational reading because he was rushing through classwork to get back to his latest literary adventure. (I know, who actually has that problem.)

We allowed a couple of exceptions. When we visited family during spring break and knew we would watch movies together we allowed him to participate. When his grades improved we allowed him to watch television on the weekends if someone else in the family was watching, but he couldn’t watch it by himself and he did not choose the show.

The first few weeks of this nine week deal were torture not just for him but for me too. I was accustomed to him reading on his own while I revised my latest work-in-progress during the evening. Suddenly my bored twelve year old stalked me looking for something to do. I could usually dig up a basket of laundry for him to fold. (Funny story, kids who capable of operating smartphones are also capable of operating the washer, dryer, and dishwasher along with a broom. Their advanced hand-eye coordination prepares them for folding laundry, taking out the trash and putting clean dishes away.)

Still his lack of entertainment impacted my usual activities. Grounding kids is really grounding parents too. They may suffer for our sins, but we also suffer for theirs. Parenting is hard, man.

Luckily, a few weeks into the restrictions and the cold weather lifted. My kid discovered the bike in the garage he’d neglected for several months and began to take bike rides through the neighborhood. He created a friendship with a kid in our new neighborhood and decided he’d like to try fishing. He also asked to try out for the cross country team and did a few runs through the hood every week to get ready.

By midway through the nine weeks his grades improved but still were not where they ultimately needed to be. He kept working and by the end of the semester discovered he’d brought his grades up enough to be exempt from all his final exams!

Everybody cheers!

I’m a little surprised our internet company didn’t initiate a safety check with the local police since our usage dipped so drastically during those weeks.

We didn’t just discover analog island last spring. We’ve spent many an afternoon and evening enduring the complaints of bored children on this deserted beach.

When my son was in the first grade our go-to discipline revolved around screen time. He enjoyed his DS and video games and their absence impacted him to the point that we began to notice real changes in his behavior on weeks he had access to electronics compared to the weeks he did not have access to them.

Again, I’m not the mama telling you to get rid of your kids’ screens because they’re killing them. We’re data hogs at my house and the kids represent only part of the consumption. My husband is an avid video gamer and I earn a living through social media. Our kids come by their digital obsessions honest.

We’re also aware of the impact of screens on our lives. I’ve banished screens from the dinner table unless the kids have a dance move they need to demonstrate and we need a few tunes for back up or my husband needs to prove strawberry milk does indeed come from pink cows. Otherwise, I’ll text or call you back when we finish eating.

Six years ago my husband and I decided to restrict our kids’ electronic access to the weekends during the school year. It would not have worked if it was not a joint commitment. We made a few exceptions. When I had bunco once a month the kids and my husband had pizza and a movie night. Television in the middle of the week became a sweet treat and fun time with dad. We were flexible but we stopped turning on the television as soon as we came in at night and we didn’t watch random shows just for the noise anymore.

Yes. It was hard. The kids begged to turn on the televison those first few weeks. We had to be consistent and stand firm. Eventually they adjusted and stopped asking. They played with friends in the neighborhood, read books, did homework, played with toys and completed chores. My husband still played games during the week and I still watched a show or two but it was while the kids were in the shower or after they went to bed.

My point for you, dear reader (shout out to all three of you), is life without electronics is possible. I do not recommend jumping off the wifi cruiser and swimming to analog island (although we’ll welcome you heartily Sunday 5 p.m. until Friday 3 p.m.). Find a mix that works for you and stick to it. Know it won’t be easy. Your kids will beg for the 24 hour buffet of YouTube goodness. They will also spend every Saturday morning glued to their screens, but you can console yourself with the truth they haven’t seen their bestie in five whole days.

We restricted electronics and survived! And if our family can take the challenge anyone can.

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