We Unplugged for One Week and it Changed EVERYTHING

Videos are easy and convenient. If we’re stuck at the doctor’s office, if we’re on a long car ride, or even if it’s the end of the day and I just need a break before bedtime, I turn to videos to keep my three-year-old child calm and still. It was always a great solution…until it became a problem. 

In short, my child became a video demon.

It wasn’t just that he enjoyed watching videos; it was more like he was obsessing over them. It wasn’t just that he was watching PBS Kids or Nick Jr.; he was watching mindless garbage that people were posting to YouTube. He was watching people open surprise eggs, “unbox” toys, and cartoon music videos teaching colors and shapes in Bollywood style. While there is nothing wrong with any of those things necessarily, it became wrong when it became his number one. He began checking out of conversations with me, uninterested in building train tracks or knocking down towers of blocks. 

I felt like I was losing him. 

And I felt like I was fighting a losing battle. If I denied him his videos, it created a temper tantrum. But if I allowed him to watch videos, it created even more fits of wailing and outrage. Videos were changing his attitude and his entire demeanor. It was hard to figure out what watching videos in moderation should look like, or if it would even work. 

So I just decided to turn it off. Completely

I’ll be honest: I felt like it was a little reckless. I wasn’t confident that my son would handle it well. I was mentally preparing myself for an entire week of treacherous toddler terrorism. What I wasn’t expecting was how easy it was — how quickly he slipped out of his video rage and back into a sweet little boy engaged in books and puzzles. All it took was making a firm decision to pull the plug. 

Here are the parameters of the technology “detox” in which we participated:

  • We turned off all devices (phones, tablets, television, computer, etc.) for one entire week. I wanted my son to go several days without even seeing an illuminated screen, just to get the video obsession out of his system. 
  • Everyone in the family participated. If my husband had refused to put away his devices, or if we had an older non-compliant sibling, this would not have worked. We all had to be on board to keep phones out of sight and TVs off (at least during our little guy’s waking hours — we were free to use our devices after his bedtime). 
  • I had to be intentional about setting aside time to play. While I don’t advocate parents acting like the cruise ship directors of their own homes, I did feel like I needed to give my son more one-on-one attention during this week-long detox. I felt like I was being a bit forced and superficial at first (like I was clearly trying to entertain him so much that he would forget about his video withdrawals), but after a couple of days, our playtime became more routine. 
  • We decided that after seven days of no screens, we would reintroduce videos (read: television shows, not YouTube videos) slowly and allow him 30 minutes per day. After seeing how that went, we would decide from there if we could increase his time a little or if we needed to do a second detox. 

Here are some things that surprised me: 

  • He only asked for videos a couple of times a day. Then, towards the end of the week, he quit asking altogether. I was prepared for it to be an every-five-minutes request. But simply explaining to him that “we’re not watching any videos this week, remember? We’re going to find something else to do instead,” and including the entire family under that restriction, he didn’t seem to have much problem with it. I was stunned!
  • My son actually has a lot of varied interests. He is right on the cusp of his fourth birthday, and we started introducing some simple games to him that week (UNO and dominoes, mainly — we clearly need to acquire some Chutes and Ladders and other kid-friendly games in our collection!), and he really took to them quickly! He had the chance to not just play with his toys, but also do some imagining (which I gladly took part in), and even help around the house. How many times have I handed him a video to keep him out of trouble while I get some household chores done, instead of inviting him to help me?! It’s not always practical to ask him to join in, but it should be much more a part of my routine than it has been in the past. 

  • This was a difficult challenge for me — to put away my phone for hours at a time and keep myself from sneaking peeks at email, social media, etc. I kept having to remind myself, “We’re not doing screens this week, remember?” far more often than I had to remind my son. While checking email often is somewhat a requirement for my work, it’s also an excuse that I use to keep my phone attached to my body at all times. Let’s be honest; I’m not always checking my phone just for work. It’s a bad habit that I’ve gotten into and clearly it’s affecting my son. One of the reasons that the detox week went so smoothly is, I believe, because I was also following the rules. How often does my son see me on my phone and that prompts him to request to watch a video on my phone or iPad? He’s learning that behavior from me, and if I want him to cool it on the videos, then that starts with me, too. 

He’s been doing so much better with videos since that detox week. It also helps that we’ve had our fair share of nice weather lately — playing outside is always a welcome alternative to sitting inside watching videos. I always know that if I need to at any point in the future, we can do another detox week to remember how to put the screens away and spend time bonding as a family. Sometimes I need that even more than my son does

I would love to hear about your household rules and routines regarding technology! How much time are your kids allowed to have? Have you ever had to do a “detox”?

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