The World Health Organization made waves in April after issuing new screen time recommendations for parents. In the report, experts didn’t just reaffirm the notion that prolonged screen time can have negative impacts on kids; they also declared that children under 1 year old shouldn’t having screen time at all. It’s a topic that hasn’t been far from the minds of many doctors and parents as we move toward a more screen-focused world — least of all Molly DeFrank, a parenting blogger and mom of five, who thought she had her kids’ screen time under control. But her recent mission to go completely screenless (aka a “screen detox”) has made her reevaluate what it really means to let your kids “veg out” for a while.
Molly says that she used to let her kids (who are all younger than 10) have an hour per day of screen time.
Most of us would love to whittle down our kids’ screen time to just an hour, but speaking with CafeMom, Molly admits that even that wasn’t cutting it. The turning point came when she noticed her kids were “grumpy and argumentative” whenever it came time to turn off the screens.
“One day, I came home from running errands and my son greeted me at the door with, ‘Can I play on your phone?'” she says. “That was the last straw for me.”
So she came up with a plan.
“I talked with my husband and we agreed it was time for a change,” she recalls. “That night at dinner, we told the kids we were taking a screen break. They protested, of course. But after a few tears, everyone moved on.”
Once this mama put her foot down, she says her kids fell into line more quickly than expected.
The next day, her kids didn’t even try to ask for screen time “since they knew it was a non-starter,” she says now.
“What happened over the next few weeks blew our minds,” Molly continues. “It was like we flipped a switch: We had our kids back. They were more obedient, less grumpy, played better together, more creative and happier.”
Although she braced herself for a rougher transition and fully expected to get some pushback, she was pleasantly surprised when there wasn’t any.
Instead, Molly used the screen detox as a time to take a closer look at her kids’ individual interests and talents, and “tried to feed those things.”
For her kids, that meant pulling out the art supplies and books, looking into piano lessons, and getting more math puzzles. Soon enough, instead of looking for screens to keep them occupied, they had plenty of other options — each of which challenged their minds.
“Of course, technology can be helpful and wonderful — in its right place,” she tells CafeMom. “We have since tried to put technology in its proper place in our home.”
Molly now allows them to play a preapproved video game or watch a show for one hour on Sundays.
“That’s it,” she says. “The bottom line for us is allowing technology to work for us, rather than being enslaved to technology.”
It’s now been months since Molly launched her little experiment, though she just recently shared the results on her blog.
In a November 7 Facebook post, Molly teased the article with a photo of all five of her kids happily reading in bed together. (Yep, you read that right.)
“We did not stage this photo,” she joked in the caption, before noting how books have become huge in her home these last few months.
“A few Saturdays into our screen detox, my kids woke up one by one and saw my husband and I reading in bed,” she continued. “They grabbed their own books and joined us. At restaurants, they bring a stack of books instead of propped iPads.”
All this reading has had some real tangible results too. “My daughter has grown five reading levels in seven months,” the mom proudly shared.
Of course, Molly still lets her kids be kids, and tells us that when the kids are at their friends’ houses, their parents make the rules on screen time. But they’re no longer addicted to them.
“Usually if they are hanging out with friends or cousins, they would rather play than watch TV,” she explains. “So it works out.”
Originally, the ban was only supposed to be for a few weeks, but Molly says after seeing how well it was going, she decided to extend it for a few months. Instead of going completely back to how things were, her kiddos are allowed an hour of screen time per week, and that’s been working just fine for everyone. She also has advice to share for parents who are interested in trying a screen detox themselves.
“I would say step one is to quit screens cold turkey for a specified amount of time,” she says. “Then, watch the results and make a plan that works best for your family.”
In the end, Molly hopes that her own progress will encourage and inspire parents to take the plunge with their own families.
“If you feel like technology and screens have too big a place in your home,” she notes, “you can change that, and it’s not as hard as you’d think.”