I did something crazy at the beginning of the summer and forced my household to go from a screen time free-for-all to a strict two-hour limit per day. What was I thinking? Well, for starters, I really wanted my kids to be bored.
Though it sounds a bit sadistic, there’s a good reason I hoped for them to be out of their minds with nothing to do -- studies have shown that boredom fosters creativity.
I am fully aware that, try as I might, I will never be able to recreate the carefree summers of my youth (all-day bike rides and adult-free adventures until the street lights came on). Devices are just part of our lives now, from zoning out to YouTube videos to looking up slime recipes. So I get it, we are not becoming members of Laura Ingalls' family anytime soon. But, during unstructured time, they always would rather watch videos of people doing stuff than actually do anything themselves. They needed forced downtime to fight (yes, fight! How else do you learn social skills?), build stuff with cardboard boxes and rock on the swings until they were dizzy.
When scientists tried this out with adults, they found the more boring activity was followed by greater creativity. No matter the age, people need time to daydream, think silly or serious thoughts and just do something mindless until inspiration follows. For kids, that might be hanging upside down on the sofa until all the blood rushes to their heads. For adults, it might be bouncing a ball in the office until a big idea hits.
It wasn’t easy cutting back on screen time -- there was a big period of grousing every day. The kids would turn on each other, pushing and pulling as they negotiated the rules of how they would play next (sometimes ending in tears). But there were also races to the favorite swing, robots made from Amazon boxes and big messes to clean up at the end of the day (for them, not me). It wasn’t perfect; when I had things to do, sometimes it was easy to forget the fact that screen time was up so I could get a little more done. Eventually, forced summer reading became reading without being told and lots of time whispering ridiculous stories back and forth.
Have I improved them as people? It’s yet to be seen long-term if I’ve made a dent in their screen-time addiction (they are definitely still jonesing for their next iPad fix, no matter how much fun they had the day before without it), but hopefully they’ll remember their screen downtime and go searching for the neighborhood Demogorgon without being told.