Our week with no screen time

This summer, our darling daughter got grounded for a week for behavior unbecoming of a 9 year old living under our roof. Her punishment included no TV or movies, no use of electronic devices, none of our usual fun outings and no time with friends. Z’s grounding was to last for an entire week – from Friday night until the following weekend.

And yes, I’m well aware there may have been better alternatives to grounding her. Boy, do I know that now!

But little did we know when we cast this harsh sentence, it would reveal how dependent we are upon screen time – and teach us a lot about ourselves in the process.

Darling daughter and I usually wake up about the same time on weekends. We have nice mornings together – we put on comfy clothes, let the dogs out and then cuddle up on the couch for some TV time or a movie while E sleeps in a bit or goes to a car meetup. We’ve been doing this same weekend morning routine together for years – we all love it.

But not that weekend. No TV/movies for us! Instead, I got a big dose of “Mom, I’m bored” and had to come up with some ideas for us to do. I honestly felt as though I were being punished, too – it really sucked at first. I decided to sit down and start reading one of her books from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. She loves these, and as soon as I began chuckling and chortling on the couch, she came over and started reading it with me over my shoulder.

Soon enough, she took over the book and told me to get one of my own Mommy books – and she continued reading. I was thrilled! I grabbed a book of my own and we sat together in our usual place on the couch, but instead of the boob tube, we read together. I LOVED IT! This isn’t so bad, I thought. I could get used to this!

It didn’t last long though, so soon I had to suggest other things. I came up with quite a few, and so did she:

  • Looking through old photo albums and scrapbooks together
  • Working together (or separately) on a list of fun things to do
  • Playing with, walking, brushing or bathing the dogs
  • Photo shoot with the dogs. This turned into a photo shoot with me as the subject – quite unexpected, but I really loved the results!
  • Board games
  • Creative projects and making art
  • Cleaning/organizing her room – either together or on her own
  • Cooking or meal prepping together (normally I’d say baking, but I’m on Whole 30 so baking would just be torture)
  • Swinging outside on her playset or on the swing chairs in our screened porch
  • Weekend errands: going to Costco, the post office and the grocery store

We did fairly well with this list, and had some nice quality time, until about mid-afternoon when I was out of ideas and feeling frustrated. It can be exhausting to solo-parent so actively for so many hours straight – I wanted time to work on my own stuff, which normally I’d have while she watched TV, a movie or played games on her device. I could have told her to go play on her own, and I am sure I did, but she kept coming back to me and saying she was bored.

At this point, hubby was finished with his car stuff, so I directed her to play with him for a while. Those two get into all kinds of hijinks together – lots of horseplay, wrestling and chasing. It usually involves me butting in at some point before the house gets destroyed or the dogs go nuts barking at the craziness! But this time, they created a board game together and it’s really awesome. They worked on designing and decorating the game itself, the artwork and the game pieces. I absolutely love it! You can see their game, and hear Z’s candid views about being grounded, in this video on Facebook.

Hubs also took her to Home Depot and worked with her in the garage for a time. After dinner, E worked on his laptop on the couch while Z and I played some more board games. She is a whiz at Connect 4 and Checkers – I was impressed with her grasp of strategy and ability to kick my butt! All in all, it was a really great day with lots of quality time – far more than we would have had if the TV were on.

But then Sunday came, and it all started all over again, and I started to lose my mind. I am not someone who enjoys sitting home two days in a row! I wanted to go to the pool, the library, drop her at a friend’s house, anything… literally anything to make the boredom stop. Not just her boredom – my own, too. I’m an extrovert but even I need down time, and I felt like with so much intensive connection time between darling daughter and us, there was no opportunity for any down time at all.

And this REALLY made me realize just how much we rely on screen time as a parenting tool, crutch and just “something to do.” If the TV were on, I wouldn’t be going crazy – I’d just go in my office and do my own thing while she watched her shows in the living room. Then I could journal, work on my blog, do something for work, watch my own TV shows or catch up on emails to friends and other correspondence. But because she wasn’t allowed any screen time, I felt bad going into my office to spend time on my computer. I tried to keep myself off devices, too, as much as was feasible.

Somehow we got through Sunday – again, with some nice quality time moments, but also with tons of “Mom I’m bored” and me feeling low-level frustrated, cooped up and annoyed. Several times, Z asked me what was wrong and I didn’t even realize I was feeling stressed or upset until she did – but she was right because inside, I was just buzzing with resentment and frustration. I hated that she could pick up on that.

I wish that I could report that the rest of the week went well, we all learned to live without electronics and play dates, and everyone got along super well and lived happily ever after. But you know life’s just not like that! There were some absolutely wonderful golden moments of family together time. The dogs got tons of attention, we developed some nice new chore routines where Z helps out around the house more than she has in the past (and plan to keep these going – not just while grounded!), and we really bonded and communicated a lot.

We also got on each other’s nerves, drove each other crazy and wished we had the usual “escape” of screen time to just chill, relax and get out of each other’s faces for an hour or two each night. That craving got a little easier over the course of a week, but I can’t say it ever really went away… and that’s sad to me. I should also add that I didn’t just miss screen time as an “escape” from parenting/reality – I also just missed watching TV or movies together as a family. It’s a fun pastime and social ritual and not just a crutch or negative thing, obviously.

I’m not sure really where we go from here, other than I don’t think we would be quick to ground her again for a week again as it started seeming overly punitive after the first few days.

I’ve since read articles about better alternatives, and she was honestly so sweet and well-behaved and cooperative all week that it felt awful to keep punishing her just because we said we would (but, of course, we held firm on the boundary for one full week). The worst part of the week being grounded was that Z and I had to miss out on the big annual KidzBop show at the Ohio State Fair, an event we always look forward to. I hated hearing her cry when I told her I sold our tickets and we wouldn’t be going 🙁

It was our first time grounding her – the first time we’ve felt her behavior was bad enough to warrant it – and I hope it’s our last. I don’t like the premise of grounding; I don’t even like the word. We want to help our girl soar, not clip her wings! I’m hopeful we can come up with better parenting alternatives in the future should the occasion arise again.

BUT, at the same time, I absolutely loved the idea of a week without screen time and I’d love to do this each summer as a family voluntarily, without the punishment aspect. I feel like we learned a lot and it showed us how reliant we’ve all become on screens, whether the TV, desktop computer, laptop, iPad or ubiquitous smart phones. I know there’s something more here that we can continue to work on and learn from!

And get this: not long ago, Z actually sat us down and thanked us for grounding her over that week. She said that her behavior had been “getting out of control” and she needed to be settled down. She said that she had a great week being grounded with us and actually didn’t really mind the experience at all. Her saying that is what prompted me to interview her about the experience. I loved hearing that she had liked spending all that time with us, without devices or friends or fun outings. That absolutely blew my mind and left me feeling even better about our experiences of the week.

Have you ever grounded your child for a week, or gone a week as a family without any screen time – and did it feel like punishment to you too? What better alternatives have you found instead of grounding? I’d love to hear your best tips and stories in the comments below or over on Facebook!

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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