Screen-Free holiday

Trying to be Tech-wise.

Norfolk screens - 1We had a wonderful family holiday in at the end of May, great weather in the stunning Norfolk countryside.  What made this holiday special, new and challenging was our decision to go ‘screen-free’ for a week.

fullsizeoutput_242fInspired by Andy Crouch’s brilliant book ‘Tech Wise family’ – we chose to black out our  screens, and see what happened.  We have 4 sons, aged 13,11, 9 & 7, they all love screen-time and so do I.    We explained the plan to them, repeated that and then explained it again just to clarify.  It wasn’t the last time we needed to remind or clarify.

How did we get on?

The iPad, (which is only used to consume), stayed at home.  iPhones came for essentials: contacting family, checking weather forecasts (important in the UK in spring) and music in the car (to sing along, not just consume) – social media apps all deleted. Laptop came with us, but packed away.  We packed stacks of board games, books and every piece of sporting equipment we could muster.

Let’s get to the honest bit, we didn’t manage it completely.  We did great for the first few days, but the phones and chargers had to be hidden in innovative places and frequent reminders issued.  After 4 days, we wanted a bit of quiet down-time in the afternoon to read, so we gave the boys a gift of one hour screen time.  Later in the week we indulged in watching a film together one evening, (note together – screens separate us).  Our youngest still wakes up much earlier than I wanted to, so I might have given him my phone once or twice, so that I could have a lie-in.

Staying off social media was really easy, but cricket’s Champion’s Trophy was on and the trigger instinct deep within me to know the score was ever-present.  I maintained my rule of not checking my screen when with the boys, but found a few sneaky ways to score-check through the day.  Taking photos is a part of shared creativity with my eldest, so the discipline to then not spend the evenings uploading, editing and posting them online was challenging as we tried to justify that.

Caleb on phone screenI was really impressed with our boys, they responded far better than I anticipated. They discovered the reality of addiction and temptation and how powerful that can be. They discovered how much they escape to screens for easy entertainment.  They also discovered great skills in justifying ways to find and use screens.  We were all reminded that in a large family, fairness is grasped passionately and more than once ‘But he is on a screen…!’ was shouted with great indignance.

I can only speak personally on the next layer down of internal mind-games, temptation, and justification.  I was interested not just in how strong the temptation would be, but the ways I would try and get round the trigger response to ‘just check….’

Email, not a problem, never once opened Mail.  The desire to check social media, post a good photo or share a witty thought was easily dealt with, but the longing to know the cricket score and the justification to check our wider family group in whatsapp was huge and I got quite creative in my self justification of breaking the fast.

What replaced screens?

A core point Andy Crouch makes in Tech-wise family is that technology is designed to make life easy, but that ease hinders the development of wisdom and character and with them resilience and creativity.  The hours we recovered from screen time, needed to be intentionally used for family life, activity and creativity.  We realised quickly as parents, that going screen-free meant investment from us.  We needed to be more present with the boys, we needed to help them to overcome boredom, we needed to play with them, read with them, walk with them, talk to them!  Having 4 children close in age brings its own challenges, but take away work and screens and that gave us the joy of overcoming those challenges.  The purpose of going screen-free wasn’t just to break addictions, it was to create family.

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How can we teach children that they ‘should’ remember them?

boys at poppies

Over half term two of our boys went to see the poppies at the Tower of London with their Grandmother. This amazing art installation is the ‘must see’ attraction in London this autumn. My boys, like many others, were very moved by seeing the 888,246 poppies, each one representing a life lost in the First World War.

I was encouraged and inspired by the way our boys responded to the poppies, not merely as ‘wowed’ tourists at the visual spectacle, but reflectively, as they were moved by the thought of all those lives given up in service of our country. I was struck by the importance of each generation passing something of honour and value on to the next, to continue the remembrance of the sacrifices of others gone before. My question is how can we best do that?

So much has changed since 1914; the passing of time brings change, and each generation sees the world differently. As the vicar of an intergenerational church, I see that at every level of leading a people who see the world very differently. Whilst the start of the war is being honoured respectfully, and through choice, there can be ungodly control if we exert pressure on younger generations to force them to honour and remember the past in a way we judge to be appropriate. I can remember being sat down after Christmas to write ‘Thank you letters’. They were a duty and obligation, motivated by fear of being judged by an older generation.

Thanking former generation is something that values and honours others, but if imposed with control, can become something we resent.

There is great value in inspiring younger generations to be grateful for what they have inherited and training them to honour others. It is part of raising a generous generation. This is best done through engaging with their imagination, listening to them and rather than enforcing a ‘you should’ approach, asking them questions about what they’ve already learned.
What I’ve learned from our boys’ response is a reminder that there is much more going on inside others of all ages (counter to what we may sometimes assume).

So how do we raise a generous generation, which honours the good in their heritage? By listening, talking, inspiring and valuing them and letting what God has placed in them be expressed freely.