Recently my children suffered a terrible loss. A death, if you will. Fortunately, we did not lose any family members or pets, but the kids were devastated just the same. They endured something horrible and unimaginable: I took away all of their electronic devices.
I wanted a simple summer. I dreamed of picnics at the park and going out for ice cream. Maybe we would run through the backyard sprinkler or have a water balloon fight. But the old-fashioned summer in my mind was competing with my children’s love of all things electronic. I was tired of looking at the tops of their heads as they gazed down at their tablets, so I decided to try a little experiment.
What would happen if we removed all technology from our home for one week? Would the children survive without Minecraft and Dog with a Blog? Would I? I have to admit that electronics are a crutch for me. When I need some distraction-free time around the house, I often rely on our favorite babysitters, Austin and Ally, to occupy the children. Thank you, Disney Channel.
I gathered the remotes, tablets and even the computer mouse and told the kids to say their goodbyes. No one heard me because they were entranced by the warm, inviting light of handheld devices, so I told them again: “We are going to put away all of the electronics for the next week so we can spend more quality time together.” Two of them looked up at me and said, “Huh?” The third was still gazing at her tablet, but hey, two out of three ain’t bad.
They did not believe me until I put all of the devices into a large box and walked out of the room. The experiment had begun: no TV, computer, Xbox, Wii, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or any other gadgets I might not know about, for one week.
I had no idea how much impact taking those things away would have. It was like a death to my children, and they actually went through the five stages of grief. That’s kind of pathetic, but it happened.
Stage One: Denial
“Yeah, right, Mom. You’re really funny,” my son said as he headed back to the television. I had to laugh when he realized the remote was gone, because that is so clearly the only way to turn on a television. They rolled their eyes and assumed I would never stick to this plan. They figured they would suffer through a couple of hours and I would cave. I did not, and soon they entered stage two.
Stage Two: Anger
There was shrieking, rolling on the ground and dramatic stomps up and down the stairs. My tween daughter looked up, stretched her arms to the heavens and angrily bellowed, “Why!?” In the midst of the tears and rage, the three of them banded together and staged a protest against the meanest mom in the whole world. They even made signs. Here are two of my favorites:
Stage Three: Bargaining
When I did not cave to their protests and the Xbox remote was still on lockdown, they tried other tactics. With sweet little voices, they promised to be good and put their clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor. If I would just give them back their stuff, they would happily clean out the garage and pull weeds in the front yard. “Just a couple of hours of TV, please,” they begged. My children were like junkies who had been cut off by their supplier.
Stage Four: Depression
Screaming, protesting and begging are hard work, and they wore themselves out. They began lounging around like sloths and whined about the injustice of having the most boring house ever. They were not interested in doing anything I suggested. Instead, they decided to wallow in their sadness. One of them even took a nap.
Stage Five: Acceptance
After 36 very long hours, the kids realized I would not change my mind. They entered the final stage of electronics grief, and something magical happened: An elaborate blanket fort appeared in the dining room. A too-cool teen was suddenly engaging with his little sisters, and they created a massive structure of linens and pillows.
Then more ideas began to flow, and I witnessed a stream of simple summer activities they came up with on their own. They took the dog on long walks, set up a lemonade stand on the corner, hunted for lizards in the backyard and created a nail salon in the kitchen. My favorite was watching my daughters transform a large cardboard box into an imaginary boat that took them to London (aka the guest room), complete with tiaras and British accents.
This was the kind of summer I hoped for. Of course, we still had sibling arguments and a few more pleas for the computer, but we really talked to each other, and time seemed to slow down. At the end of the week, I released the electronic devices from their prison. The children were thrilled to have their old digital buddies back, but it has been different around our house since the grand experiment. They are a tiny bit less obsessed with electronics. That’s progress, and I’ll take it.
Maybe next summer we will try it for two weeks.