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Screen-free week: Role modeling and the Facebook Fast

Computerclosed001

I constantly have to remind myself that my kids are watching me like a hawk, absorbing my behaviors and often adapting them. This makes for many cringe-worthy moments, but also for some proud ones. Like any other behavior you try to reinforce, you probably won't have much success unless you do it yourself. You can't teach your kid to chew with her mouth closed if you eat like a horse. The same goes for screen. If you're spending most of your time staring at a screen when your kids are around, they will want to do the same. TV is not an issue for me, and I don't have a fancy cell phone that browses the web and receives email (because if I did, I would be looking at it constantly). My screen struggles are right here on the computer.

Several weeks ago I finally hit the wall. I was depressed, sick and unmotivated and trying to find escape online. I'm not sure how much time I was spending on the computer, but it felt like too much. Most of it was reading blogs, and then clicking on a link, then to another link. It was like I was looking for something, some great insight that would help me, what? Figure out how to be a better person? So I decided to put myself on an online diet. Major. Here's what I did:

1) In one fell swoop I emptied out my Google reader and unsubscribed from all of my favorite blogs. I figured they weren't going anywhere, so if I needed them again one day, I could find them.

2) I stopped checking Facebook. I'm not really a big FB user, but I was checking it a couple of times a day, reading all of those status updates from high school people I haven't thought about in 20 years, letting that useless information infect my brain. I didn't miss it!

3) I stopped receiving daily digest emails from a Yahoo! group that I'm really not that active in. Always read the digest, but never really participated -- why bother?

4) I stopped checking news sites, you know, for the latest! breaking! news! as well as People.com and other brain candy sites. I knew far too much about the cast of Gossip Girl yet had never watched the show.

Basically for most of March I limited myself to writing this here blog, checking email and only browsing the web if I needed to research a recipe or something important. And I only did it when the kids were at school. Oh. My. God. It was liberating! It was like an instant energy boost. Well, hello reality! You're not so bad after all! I gained a ton of time and focused on getting healthy and being really present for my family and myself. I was active instead of passive, busy and engaged, and it felt (feels) great.

Little by little I've eased up on some of those online restrictions, but not by much. I just don't feel that compulsion anymore, like some part of my identity is wrapped up in those online destinations, and if I don't go there then I might miss out on something important! But also, I kind of don't have the time anymore. There are yard projects underway and a new exercise class to get to and hikes to take with my mom and baseballs to throw and bike tires to pump up and the list goes on. 

I want to show my kids that you can be entertained and engaged by alternative means. You can MAKE your own fun, and for the most part they are really great about doing that. (In fact, they are working on a list of 'things we'd rather be doing than watching television' to share with you later in the week.) When they do get some screen time, they know it's a privilege and they really think about how they want to use it -- what site to play on or show to watch. But ultimately, they have a lot more fun away from it. That's how I'm feeling about the online world these days -- it's a nice place to visit once in awhile, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Do you struggle with computer time? Have you found a good balance between the virtual and real world?

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