My family and I have been taking a day off a week from gadgets and the internet for over three years now – that means no smartphones, no internet, no computers and (mostly) no streaming or gaming.
There are six of us (seven if you count the dog): me, my wife, Caroline, and our four children – Ben (18), Gabriel (15), Jessica (13) and Noah (7). We had been asked about our ‘tech-free Sundays’ so many times that I decided to write a book about our experiences and the benefits we’ve seen, and provide some practical pointers for those who want to do the same.
Here are the four biggest benefits that we have found:
1. The children are a lot happier, as are we
There is less conflict in our house and fewer incidences of ‘teenage tantrums’. We’ve found that when the children were permanently plugged in, they really struggled to compromise their own desires and do things together. On our days off, they cannot simply do their own thing on their own screen, they have to find more collaborative ways of having fun.
There’s also less chance of ‘school life’ sticking with them 24 hours a day. We unplug in the evenings, so any school trouble cannot follow them to dinner, through the evening and on to bed. In the mornings, when the phones go back on we’ll often find that other 13 year olds were using Snapchat far beyond midnight.
2. We’re all a lot healthier
Not only do we find things to do together, but having the gadgets removed has driven everyone outside to play, ride, walk the dog, throw a frisbee etc. Several of us have step counters, and we’ve completed many more miles and done a lot more exercise since we started this.
3. We are safer both online and in the real world
Addiction to internet access means that our brain drives a need for more ‘likes’ and more extremes. Adolescents are especially susceptible to this, but ours find it easier to resist the pull of the darker, more extreme and less savoury parts of the internet.
Looking up from the gadgets makes you safer when walking, but for the three of us that drive, being able to resist the pull of the phone is a critical safety skill. Over half a million accidents were caused in the USA last year due to people using their phones behind the wheel.
4. The children are smarter
We’ve seen it in their grades at school, and it’s connected to the increase in quality sleep and the ability of their brains to retain and connect information better. There is a large body of scientific evidence that shows physical changes in the brain related to prolonged internet access.
I wish I could say it’s easy to switch off your technology, but it’s not a pain-free process – especially during the first six weeks. If you want to learn more, then my book Digitox – How To Find A Healthy Balance For Your Family's Digital Diet will absolutely help you to do this with your family, and convince the more reluctant members that there are really good social and scientific reasons to do so.
About Mark Ellis
Mark Ellis is the author of Digitox: How To Find A Healthy Balance For Your Family’s Digital Diet, a book all about making yourself and your family happier, healthier, safer and smarter in a society that increasingly demands constant, unsustainable attention.
Mark was given his first computer aged 10. After graduating with a first class honours degree in Business Studies & Technology he joined Dun & Bradstreet and has since spent over two decades in the technology and software industry, working all over the world for several multi billion dollar companies.
He now spends time helping large innovative corporations get the best from their people as a leadership & culture consultant and shares his experiences at Oxford Brookes University as an Associate Lecturer. He is also a professional conference chair, working alongside production teams to provide a safe pair of hands and ensuring a consistently professional (and engaging) experience for delegates and speakers during events.
Mark has been a guest on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today program, BBC Radio Oxford and Jack FM and together with his family has also been featured in the national press, both in the UK and the USA - and in other publications including Grazia and Oxford Life Magazine.
Outside of his professional life, he is a co-founder of Red Trouser Day, a charity raising money for bowel cancer research and a co-founder of FLTR coffee, a not for profit coffee shop in the heart of a local housing development.
He has been married to Caroline for twenty years, and together they have four children and a dog called Shelby.
His best selling book, Digitox is the story behind Mark and his family’s decision to create “Tech free Sunday’s”. A day where there is no Internet usage – by choice. Meaning no email, social networking, texting or You Tube. Not even checking the weather forecast. The book covers their experiences over a three-year period and highlights the challenges; benefits and the pitfalls that they feel could have been avoided.