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.