How to Raise Unplugged Kids in A Tech-Obsessed World

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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. First of all, they got their mama back. I was no longer spending every ounce of my time cleaning up and folding heaps of laundry, and they developed wild imaginations. What does that have to do with minimalism? Well, everything.

The thing about minimalism is once you start, it doesn’t really stop. It’s like pushing a large snowball down a steep hill - it just keeps rolling, collecting more and more snow as it goes. 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. I’m a professional blogger for pete’s sake. My boys’ biggest obsession right now is the Mario Brothers (my littlest is usually tasked with being Bowser while the older two run away from him screaming). The difference is, there are boundaries around technology. There isn’t constantly some kind of screen on entertaining everyone, and tech time isn’t something that’s expected by my kids.

My boys spend far more time actually pretending to be Mario, Luigi, and Bowser than they do playing the video games that made the trio famous.

Most people think limiting technology has to feel like some kind of punishment, and that is simply not true. All things need to be limited - it’s just not good for you to have too much of pretty much anything! 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. That is such a gift!

Kids played happily (and a lot better) without technology for generations before us, and I think sometimes we forget that.

In 1950, 10% of American households owned a TV set. By 1954 this increased to 50% of households and by 1970 98% of households had one. We grew into constant entertainment very quickly, not realizing the effect it had on our family time and our kids’ imaginations.

Let’s take a quick look at the deep impact technology has had on our children:

  • A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day with cells phones, computers, televisions and other electronic devices. That means the only things keeping kids away from electronic devices are eating, sleeping and school. And, during the summer months, of course, you can generally remove school from the equation.
     
  • Childhood obesity has reached an all-time high. Tech time has surely contributed to that.
  • Imaginative play is also influenced by screens- instead of creating their own play themes they often reenact characters from shows in a repetitive and stifling way.

  • TV often creates a sense of detachment in our feeling life- for example, we sit in a warm house with plenty of food in a comfortable chair and watch a show about homeless people and our hearts go out to them but rarely does this actually call people to action. This detachment also happens for children- violence, sarcasm, adult-themed innuendos or jokes become the ‘norm’. You may argue action-packed books could lead to the same effect- but when a child reads, his mind creates its own pictures and has time to think about them, digest them and make them his own. These thoughts could lead to new ideas that lead the child to action. TV does not give time for this higher level of thinking. When children are accustomed to lots of TV they are not used to using their imaginative thinking at all and don’t exercise that part of the brain (the neocortex). By telling stories and reading books children are able to create pictures which inform our dreams, intuitions, inspirations and imaginations.

  • Recent studies have shown that regular screen time causes atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas (where “processing” occurs) of the brain.

  • When a child is watching a show or video or playing a game and it is then taken away there is a withdrawal period. They often become anxious, nervous or irritable. Their movement becomes impulsive, erratic and uncoordinated.

Compare all of this to when a child is in nature for a period of time- playing in the dirt or sand, digging with sticks, building with fallen branches, exploring, looking at bugs. There is a sense of groundedness, calm and steady energy about a child who has been outside playing freely versus inside looking at a screen.

You will be amazed at how easily a child fills up his day without a screen. “I’m bored” happens in our home on occasion but it’s not a common thing to hear.

Jean Piaget, a pioneer in child psychology said,

“Children should be able to do their own experimenting and their own research. Teachers, of course, can guide them by providing appropriate materials, but the essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it.
Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visibly.”

Screens put everything on the table so that there is nothing to uncover. But when we get out of our children’s way and let them be bored they come up with all sorts of exciting things to do and learn.

I have seen absolutely incredible benefits of limiting screen time in our home, and let me encourage you by repeating myself - we do not ban tech time - my kids regularly enjoy screen time. It’s simply that we limit it. You do not have to throw away all your devices and forbid the TV be used by anyone but you. This doesn’t have to be a thing that turns you into a monster or a tyrant, I promise!

Before we get into how you can start encouraging your kids to play more and stare at a screen less, let’s go over the positive effect of limiting technology in your home…

  • My kids get along much better.
     
  • They are more grateful. What I mean by this is that my kids seem to appreciate what they have more. They play with each other better, seeming more grateful for their siblings, and they come up with new games to play together. They are more grateful for their Legos and blocks and simple toys that were "boring" before we limited toys and technology. Their imaginations and creativity expand.
  • They spend their time reading, creating art, running around outside, making up games and stories together, reading stories - independently and with you.

  • They just seem a lot happier. They are less moody/cranky/irritable - no withdrawal symptoms.

  • You are empowering your children to connect with nature, the seasons and real people.

  • You are teaching self-discipline through example- carving out specific times that screens are appropriate and disengaging at times when they are unneeded- prioritizing your life and time without wasting it.

  • You are creating more time to be together as a family.

  • When you are clear with the boundaries you decrease whining, bargaining or constant negotiating.

  • They are allowed to be kids! This means more messes, more energy to be expelled, more attention required from you as the parent but you are gifting them their childhood. They are not chained to a screen for your benefit- this limitation is actually totally freeing for them.

Okay, so you’re convinced. But…. how do you start? When you realize your kids are spending way too much time with screens and you know you want to begin limiting, what do you do exactly? Sit back and take a deep breath, girl, cause I gotcho back.

How to Get Started

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

Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts from it.
— Joshua Becker

Get the picture? Now go and do this for yourself. Without a clear picture of what matters most to you, you’ll find it impossible to implement new rules and boundaries, especially when your kids push back. You need a super solid why in order to be in this for the long haul.

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 reading this post and 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, girl.

  • 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? Nah, that’s not gonna work! We can, however, gently guide them and offer them alternatives and new ideas. #MommingSoHard

  • 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 a girl 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, and it can really help!

  • 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 them 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!

Here’s how it works:

the clutter cycle

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.

I used to tell my kids to “go play” almost constantly! I realized it just really wasn’t the type of mom I wanted to be. I’m all for unentitled kids who know how to play, and my kids do- they use nearly all their free time to make up stories and games and play with each other, but sometimes, especially when you first start this or your kids are very young, they need a little help. I started saying “let’s play” a little more often, and some of my sweetest memories were born out of that switch.

What takes up your space takes up YOU.

  • Less stuff, more joy.

  • Less chaos, more peace.

  • Less busyness, more intentionality.

I used to be a very unhappy mom. I struggled with depression, I always felt overwhelmed and like I couldn’t keep up with all that was on my plate. Every day felt like a battle I lost.

I noticed I was spending the bulk of my time wrangling the kids’ toys, so one day I decided to get rid of almost all of them. All the useless toys that were doing the imagining for my kids, all the mismatched pieces of toys, everything except toys that inspired creativity and constructive play was donated or thrown away.

I noticed an immediate shift in our home. My kids began to display the benefits of an intentional home. I brought my new minimalist outlook into the rest of my house and my whole life changed.

Suddenly my to-do list was much shorter on a regular basis, the laundry didn’t need to be done every day (even with six of us in the house) because I had also purged our clothes down to only what we needed, the house was almost always picked up and ready for company to drop by, and that was a great feeling.

I had so much free time! I was able to play with my kids, take them on hikes, pour into them, homeschool them, even start a business from home (something I never would have been able to add to my plate before minimalism) and I was so much less stressed. I finally felt like I was looking more like the mom I wanted to be.

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!

Eliminating the clutter and the chaos in your home gives you a firm foundation for raising unplugged kids because you are more able to pour into them! You’re able to be centered, calm, at peace with yourself and much less stressed. You’re freed up to replace some of the TV time with family adventures, sitting outside together, playing together - better things than sitting in front of a show.


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I want you to feel capable as this long post comes to an end. This doesn’t have to be a burden, a stress, or scary. Let it set you free to confidently and happily limit technology, throw away the crutch in your motherhood (do we really want to go through this thing relying on Paw Patrol to babysit whenever we get uptight?) and step into present, sweet, abundant life as you raise your sweet babies.

You were chosen out of every woman who has ever lived in any generation for all of time, to be the mother of your children.

- Allie Casazza

Allie Casazza

Allie Casazza , Murrieta, CA