July Unplugged

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A Very Scientific Experiment


I love having my kids home in the summer. I really really do! We have time to relax and enjoy each other.   We have time to devote to chores, instrument practice and reading.   My kids put effort into these things. They are good kids.  And yet, I am engaged in a daily battle with something called “screen time.”  Da-da-da.  Anyone else in the same boat?

If I am not ever diligent, each and every one of my 8 children will be drawn into wasteful hours in front of the screen. And there are plenty of screens to seduce them. We have a television, four computers, a tablet, an ipod and several smart phones.

With so many electronic devices and so many children, screen time becomes very difficult to manage.

The difficulty isn’t just in the temptation and time spent. There are also some confusing issues for me as a mother.   For instance, I know it is important for children to be comfortable and proficient with technology. There is so much that can be learned using these tools and sometimes they are the most effective teachers.

And then, much of what my kids choose to do on screen gives at least the illusion of being productive. They rarely, if ever, play mindless games.  I have two boys who love to computer program. They go on Scratch daily to make their own simple programs. They also create endlessly on Mindcraft (a game which my three-year old endearingly refers to as Mindcrap).

I have one son who loves sports. He reads the newspaper daily. Then he goes online to find more information about his favorite teams and to watch replay highlights. He is also intrigued by engineering and can spend hours building and testing bridges on West Point Bridge Designer or developing cities on Sim City.

One of my daughters loves to craft and finds many ideas on Pintrest.

And all of my children want to spend some time each day watching a favorite television show on Netflix.

And then there is the issue of peace and quiet.  Sometimes, screen time is a nice break for me because the kids are engaged elsewhere and I get a moment to myself.  I am embarrased to admit this because the truth is I am often tempted to overuse this parental respite enabler.

There is also the concern of dangerous and addictive images that can be easily stumbled upon or accessed via the screen.  We have filters and pretty strict rules, but this concern remains ever-present.  As it should.

With all of our different devices and my children’s varied interests and the different programs and apps available, what do I do?

Where do I draw the line?

How do I use time limits effectively?

Do I allow use of certain programs and devices and disallow others? How do I choose?

How do I teach my children self-awareness and self-discipline so that they can effectively live in this distracting world and make appropriate choices?

I have had all of these questions rattling around in my brain since summer commenced.

Just recently, I read a Time magazine article called “How To Raise Happy Kids”. The article title caught my attention, because that is precisely my goal. To raise happy kids. And while the goal is simple, there isn’t exactly a handbook on how to accomplish it.

What I read, provoked contemplation. Much of what was stated I already sort of understood. But the article invited me look at some things differently, particularly screen time.  Of the ten points made in this article, half directly or indirectly alluded to excessive screen time as a happinss hurdle.  The article did not say screen time was inherently bad, but that it often prevents children from “doing those things that could be making them happier in the long run.”

Before this I had not made the direct connection between my children’s screen time habits and their personal happiness. And yet what else is there to consider.  Each and every choice we make should be weighted in these terms.

And then I had a brilliant idea.  I have them every now and again.  I invited my children to participate in a very scientific experiment.  If you know my kids, you understand that this is the only way to get them on board.  I mean, who doesn’t want to participate in a very scientific experiment.  Especially one that could be earth shattering in terms of scientific discovery.  Right?!?  Well they loved the idea!

We decided to name our very scientific experiment, “July Unplugged.”   During the entire month of July, our family will be finding alternatives to screen time entertainment.  In other words, if it isn’t specifically work or school or church or blog related (otherwise how could I share the results with you), then we won’t be using a screen for it.

I put together a very scientific questionnaire to be answered weekly by each study participant.  The purpose of the questionnaire is to give us, myself included, an opportunity to process and articulate and understand how we feel during the screen time moratorium.

Using the results of this very scientific study, I hope to develop a better management system for screen time in our family.  I also hope that this will help the children to develop self awareness, to understand what they really don’t need and to see when and how screen time can enhance their lives.

I plan to share what we are learning over the next few weeks in some of my blog posts. Perhaps we’ll discover that screen time is the best thing ever invented.  Or maybe we’ll find that we can almost live without it.  Or maybe a combination of both.  Who knows?

A Very Scientific Experiment Questionnaire

1. How easy was it for you to go without screen entertainment this week?

Easy          1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10           Difficult

2. Were there any screen activities you really missed?

If yes, What?

3. How would you rate the level of peace in the home?

Most Peaceful           1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10           Most Contentious

4. Do you remember feeling frustrated or angry this week?

About what?

5. What memorable things did you do with friends/family this week?

6. How often did you think about your goals this week?

Never           1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10           Very Often

7. Rate your level of focus and motivation to accomplish your goals this week?

Distracted           1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10           Very Focused

8. Rate the time you spent actively working to accomplish your goals this week?

None           1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10           Many Hours

9. Were you able to do something this week that you have been putting off?


10. Which most accurately represents how your overall feelings this week?

a)calm, peaceful, unhurried
b)anxious, tense and rushed

11. Which most accurately represents your overall feeling this week?

a)hopeful, optimistic, positive
b)depressed, pessimistic, negative

12. Which most accurately represents your overall feeling of physical health this week?


13. On average, how long did it take you to fall asleep at night this week?

<10 minutes              10-20 minutes          20-40 minutes          >40 minutes

14. In general, how did you feel when you woke up in the morning this week?

Fully Rested           1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10           Exhausted

15. Rate your feeling over overall feelings of happiness and well being this week.

Miserable           1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10           Very Happy

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  1. Janel says

    I LOVE this idea! Please keep us posted on your results! I might even steal your questionnaire and try this with my children in the future.

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