A World Beyond Devices: Taking a Technology Break Encourages Authentic Engagement
Nov 03, 2018 01:15AM
● By Gisele Rinaldi Siebold
The demands of our daily schedules can lead to us to feel like we are rushing around all day long. We wake up, get ready, go to school and work, hurry home, eat, do homework, drive to evening events and finally come home to watch television and go to sleep. Weekends may have a full schedule as well, with the inclination to fill any “down time” with technology splurges.
Jenel Schaffer, an artist, certified art instructor, certified family/nutritional herbalist and mother of five, experienced the daily rush with her family during the first year her children attended public school. “Before public school, we had a laid-back approach to schooling and life,” says Schaffer.
“My children had only ever been homeschooled. When my daughter was born last summer, I needed to regroup, reconfigure and spend time with her and myself,” she explains. “My three older children went to our local, country school. My two younger children stayed home with me.
“By the end of the year, I felt like I didn’t really recognize my children anymore,” reflects Schaffer. “They bickered a lot, communicated much less and were always asking to watch something or play something. I knew something drastic had to occur.”
With two weeks left of school, Schaffer decided she and her children would do a 40-day technology fast. “There were some guidelines, and I knew it would not be perfectly free from all media. The kids had iPads at school, and sometimes they watched educational videos there as well. I needed to continue working, so I was allowed to use the computer for work purposes,” she explains.
Schaffer says the children stopped watching movies and playing video games, and she refrained from excess texting and using her phone for social and entertainment purposes. What followed was more than she ever expected or predicted.
During the first week of the fast, they all felt like something was missing. “I could tell the children were a little confused as to what to do,” she recalls. “They started following me around everywhere. It became quite sweet, actually. When I was cooking, they asked to help. If I was working on an art project, they sat in my art room and drew, or asked to paint. They amazingly stopped bickering about everything. It’s as if subconsciously they knew they needed to do something productive.”
At the end of the first week, Schaffer came downstairs one morning to see her sons building a pirate ship in the living room. “Not a Lego, or block-sized ship, but large, built using most of the dining room chairs with blankets, and equipped with a canon and flags. I had to share this on Facebook, breaking the no-media fast, but it just had to be shared, it was so cool,” she enthuses.
According to Schaffer, the most dramatic change that occurred began around 20 days into the period of fasting. “All of a sudden, our bookshelves began to look intriguing,” she says. “I have been an avid reader my entire life. As a child, I was reading long novels, in every genre. I’d lay in my bed with a flashlight and read into the late hours of the night. At school, I’d hide books in my desk to read during lessons. I carried books with me in the car and everywhere we went. I just naturally expected my children to love to read as much as I did and still do. I would often more than gently nudge them to read.”
Around the 20-day mark, the Schaffer children picked up books and slowly started reading, to their mother’s surprise and delight. “I couldn’t believe it, but by the end of another week, all of my older children would sit and read all day long. They told me how much they loved books. We made regular trips to the library and loaded up with books. It lasted throughout the remainder of the time we were breaking from technology and has continued months later,” she explains.
“My children benefited from this experiment, but so did my husband and I. My husband did not join us in this undertaking, per se. He did, however, reap rewards and was unwillingly pulled into the affair. In the evenings instead of racing to the living room for some television time, our children lingered around the kitchen table, engaging in conversation. They would often ask my husband to go outside and play ball or some other activity,” she recalls. “It was quite beautiful to witness that by just removing some ‘thing’ from our lives, something new and lovely was created.”
Schaffer believes that removing some technology from daily life can have a far-reaching, ripple effect beyond the walls of our homes. “It was difficult at times, but worth the experiment. I encourage parents to try a form of my technology break, one that fits your family,” she says. “The rewards can be long lasting if you commit to a 30- to 40- day period of fasting, long enough for the mind to create a new habit. There will be a moment of breakthrough that makes every trial and discomfort absolutely priceless,” encourages Schaffer.
Jenel Schaffer lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and five children. To connect with Jenel, visit JBSchafferArtist.com or @JenelSchafferArtist on Instagram.