Screen time vs. play time: Why I’m raising unplugged kids 

I have always wanted to raise unplugged kids. When you live in a tech-obsessed world, where most kids’ weekends are spent beating the latest video game, and even doing homework requires a screen, it gets hard.

Six years ago, finding minimalism changed my life and restored my motherhood. I got my time, my joy and my home back. I also feel that I gave a huge gift to my children.

One huge benefit? They developed wild imaginations. What does that have to do with minimalism? Well, everything.

The thing about minimalism is that once you start, it doesn’t really stop. You begin to look at the way things have always been done with fresh eyes, and you desperately seek a simpler way of doing pretty much everything. Minimalism will touch every area of your life once you realize what a truly freeing gift it is.

For our family, our use of technology has been no exception.

Now let me be clear—I’m not the mom whose kids never play video games or don’t know how to use an iPad. We have plenty of technology in our house.

The difference is, there are boundaries around technology. There isn’t constantly some kind of screen on entertaining everyone, tech time isn’t something that’s expected by my kids.

Most people think limiting technology has to feel like some kind of punishment, and that is simply not true. By limiting technology, we are simply setting healthy boundaries, teaching our kids how to be well-balanced human beings, and encouraging the power of their imaginations.

How to get started in your own home.

1. Get clear on your family’s values.

You can’t copy mine or ask your neighbor about her’s. You need to be deeply connected to what matters to you for your family. Grab a journal or open a note in your phone (see? Technology isn’t all bad, it can be super helpful!) and write out what matters a lot to you. How do you want your kids to grow up?

Some of my biggest values are:

  • That my kids have wild imaginations and know how to play like kids should
  • That my home be a beautiful haven we all love spending time in
  • That my kids see my husband and I intentionally spending lots of time together
  • The pursuit of minimalism in our home, calendar and lifestyle

2. Decide how you’re going to do this.

You can go about the pursuit of less technology a couple of different ways. You can do a full fledged detox and not have any in your home for a set amount of time, or you can slowly pull back from it, limiting it more and more as time goes on until you hit your personal sweet spot.

Personally, I think a detox is incredibly beneficial for most families, especially if you’re feeling the tug to take action. A detox doesn’t have to be super long or extremely painful. My advice is one week of no screens (or as few screens as possible if you need them for school).

One week is a great amount of time because it’s just enough to reset your kids’ brains. Just know that if you reintroduce your old tech habits after this detox, you’re going to undo all your hard work, so be sure to reintroduce technology on a very limited basis. For example, Netflix and video games for one hour on weekends only, or whatever similar boundary feels good to you.

3. Plan your first screen-free day.

Grab that journal again and come up with a gameplan.

  • How are you going to find a moment for yourself?
  • How will you handle “witching hour” when you and everyone else in your house are just done?
  • How will you help your kids find media alternatives?

Without a plan you are much more likely to cave, drink an entire bottle of wine, and think I’m a jerk for even suggesting the idea of a tech detox. We don’t want any of those things.

4) Create a connected and consistent family rhythm.

Rhythms in your day help everyone feel at peace. The kids know what to expect, you know your day is already somewhat planned and you aren’t trying to come up with on-the-spot entertainment for your kids. How will you fill your day? What are you going to do with each time block?

Start with the blocks that are filled for you—school and work hours, meal times, nap time, etc. From there, come up with ideas of how to fill your day with intentional, family rhythms.

Another thing to think about is balancing inside play and outside play. This can help you find a consistent rhythm for your kids’ play because it feels like a transition. Instead of just two hours of straight playtime, you can guide them to play for a bit in their playroom, then outside, then in the living room while you prepare lunch. It doesn’t take much to change things up!

5. Help your kids get into their play.

We can’t go about life doing things one way and then rip the carpet out from under our kids and expect them to know exactly what to do and how to be, right? That’s not gonna work! We can, however, gently guide them and offer them alternatives and new ideas.

  • Give your kids something tactile and new to play with
  • Provide them with a clean, uncluttered space to play in (#minimalism)
  • Have open-ended, simple toys on hand (think Legos, blocks, puzzles, dress up clothes, art supplies)
  • Be prepared to spend more time with your kids as they re-learn how to play

6. Set yourself up for success.

How are you going to handle this big change? You have to be prepared and equipped, and that takes a little preparation.

We talked a couple points ago about deciding how you’re going to have a moment to yourself in order to go the length of a full day without relying on technology. Here are some ideas:

  • Seek support from your village by reaching out to a relative or friend to come over, break up the day, and help out!
  • Lay the foundation for good self-care or “quiet time” by setting time for yourself before the day even starts. This way, you sort of give yourself a “moment” before you need it.
  • Make sure you have a strong bedtime routine. This will give you the evenings to yourself.
  • Get outside. One of my favorite things to do when I feel overwhelmed and stretched super thin with my kids is head to the park with my headphones. I listen to music or an encouraging podcast while they play on the playground and I watch. Win, win.
  • Play an audio story to give the kids something calm to entertain the while you drink some coffee and take a break. We love Story Nory!
  • Make or prepare dinner early. This gives you a break during one of the hardest, busiest times of the day.

7. Set up a home that allows you to be a present mom.

It’s hard to ditch technology and apply family rhythms when you’re overwhelmed by a long to do list, endless chores, and that feeling of dread you get when you know you’ve got tons to do but are spending time with your family instead. I want you to be able to pour into your kids and know your house is maintained without you having to constantly catch up. Believe me, it is possible!

When our homes are cluttered, we have more to clean. When we have more to clean, we feel an inner overwhelm and a pressure to keep up. We wind up feeling like we are always cleaning, and unable to pause and spend quality time with our children unless we are willing to pay the price later on—catching up on the housework.

What takes up your space takes up YOU.

A life of less freed me and allowed me to be more intentional, more present with my family, and to fulfill some life-long dreams as well!

Allie Casazza is wife to her junior-high algebra partner and mom to their four young kids. She is the creator of “Your Uncluttered Home,” an online decluttering course that has earned her national attention for her philosophy of simple motherhood. Allie has been featured on Good Morning America, The TODAY Show, The Jenny McCarthy Show, ABC News, and other popular media. She and her husband work together on her blog-turned-business, which you can check out here.

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