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On taking a regular Screen Sabbath

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About Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Confession: our TV is on almost daily. It’s not on all day, and we’re super selective about what gets watched. We do Netflix and Hulu instead of traditional television, so we’re not inundated with ridiculous ads, and it’s never on just as background noise (music is almost always on when the TV isn’t). We’re big believers in not watching much TV.

But still… there it is. Our TV is on at least for a few minutes, six days per week.

The other day? It’s off—no iffs, ands or buts. The kids know this in advance, we grownups write it on the calendar, and so even though the youngest still asks, “Can I watch a cartoon?” out of habit, the rest of the family knows this TV-free day is written in our weekly calendar.

Games on the smartphones are off-limits, too.

As are the ones on the Internet.

And screens anywhere else, for that matter.

We’ve been calling this new ritual our Screen Sabbath. Even though our lives don’t revolve around screens, if we’re not careful, all five of us can stare at them more than we realize. I’m not crazy about that.

So we instituted our Screen Sabbath as a way to curtail any potential obsession, crutch, or knee-jerk reaction to a few hours’ downtime. As a way to silence the noise in our everyday lives. To remember the effort it takes to have meaningful, worthwhile entertainment that doesn’t involve other people acting on our behalf.

It’s not just hard for the kids and their cartoon-watching ways. This means aside from the occasional text or quick glance for directions, Kyle and I don’t use our smartphones, either. Easier said than done, believe me.

kids at the lake

On most Screen Sabbaths, we spend the afternoon outdoors. We’ll grab a quick lunch after church (oh—and the fact that we call our screen break a “sabbath” is not because it’s on a Sunday—we’d still call it that if it were a Tuesday), then head to the sledding hill in the winter, a lake in the summer, or even go for a simple walk or ambling drive year-round. Sometimes it’s a simple afternoon at a local park. Many times, it’s wandering in the backyard or even just reading, playing, and crafting in the quiet house.

Instituting this Screen Sabbath really isn’t much—I mean, we’re only talking about 24 hours per week. But for me, it’s become a centering, where I better hear my thoughts, my husband’s words, my children’s laughter, and my convictions that life isn’t all about my entertainment. I am grateful for the background quiet and the voices loud. I better remember what it means to slow down.

This is just as true as when it was first published in March 2013.

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Comments

  1. Hm, I like this idea. I spend a week in February where I limited myself to only 15 min a day on my smartphone. (Unless someone called me… I didn’t want to rudely cut anyone off!) Amazing how suddenly Instagram and Gems with Friends were less important, because I was saving time to text real friends!
    But we could never do a screen sabbath on Sundays. Noel looooooves football, and so for 5-6 months of the year the tv is on the moment we get home from church. Maybe a Tuesday Sabbath? :)

  2. I love this practice. I attended Waldorf schools when I was a child, which really discourages the use of technology like tv watching, computer games etc, so screens were never really big in my home growing up. We had a no screens rule throughout the school week, while weekends were fair game for them- so just the opposite of your family’s schedule. Either way, I feel it’s so important, especially for young children, to engage in the natural world and in real play. The truth is, screens are so dominant in our society that we must make a purposeful habit to limit them if we have any hope of cultivating a sense of wonder, exploration and connectedness to nature and the spirit world in children.

  3. We do this too… We aren’t big “screeners.” My husband watches tv to unwind the kids and I never do, never even think to turn it on… even so we can build up a lot of screen time, playing games, ipads and such… Not on Sundays!!! We aren’t as adventurous as you are – I am a firm believer in the Sunday afternoon nap… without it I believe my week would crumble!!! Honestly, we don’t miss the screens when they are not available – it is like… they are not an option and everyone finds something else to do. In fact this year we have banned screen time before lunch on any day… even for me (though I do sneak sometimes) and our school work and everything has been so much more productive – hardly a surprise!!! For me – the biggest user (I confess!!!) I have found that twitter, pinterest and instagram can all survive without me and I just haven’t missed it!!!

    • Yes, our other rule is no screen time before lunch, Monday through Saturday. Amazing the difference it makes our day.

      • I like the no screen time before noon. We apply that to the kids, but I wonder how I would do without email in the morning….easier in the summer for sure, than the winter!

  4. Tsh. I like this idea and I’ve tried to do various components like this, but I have one or two caveats to following suit. One, I feel with a newborn and finding our normal (and still lack of sleep), instituting a no screen Sunday or Saturday might be setting myself up. The other to put it bluntly, it’s the easiest to have screen time for the older two, while babe naps, in order for parents to have some mommy-daddy time.

    But, that said, I’m going to forward this to Ben.

  5. I think that setting up ‘no XYZ’ or whatever limit just sets up a false value to whatever XYZ is. Instead of just being one of many choices, it’s now the coveted choice. Should we instigate a ‘no paper rule’ or a ‘no being outside rule’? How about other human time? You’ve been reading too many books honey! You’ve played in the woods long enough! No more being with people! The rule is only 30 minutes a day! And not on Sundays!

    • Well, it works for our family.

      • That’s all that matters :) Good for you. I don’t think having a no screen day makes it more enticing, I think it just helps give greater balance and teaches kids that your family values relationships and creativity more. Just as we limit sweets that our kids eat. It may make them want them more, but such is life. We still limit them to teach them the importance of nutrition. One is good for the soul and the other good for the body.

        • It’s tempting to bow out of the job of being a parent and setting limits that you know your kids are going to object to – or that may even spur them on. But that’s our job. The world is full of temptations. Our job is to teach our children forbearance and how to exercise judgement despite their desires and impulses. It’s not always easy – but, hey, that’s the challenge of life and parenting!
          Tsh, I so commend you on your screen sabbath. We’ve had an ongoing issue with my son about video games. He rarely gets to play them – but whenever he does he cannot focus afterwards or structure himself. The blog post I wrote about it has been one of the most popular ones on my blog. Based on my research, video gaming (even educational ones) create developmental problems. And evidence is showing up for how other screen times can do the same – addictive brain activity similar to heroin addiction (social media), memory issue, etc. I struggle with it myself as I am tempted to do a little more on Twitter for my biz or read another article. This is not a casual move you’re making to keep your family healthy! Great post!

          • We have done a screen fast during the Lenten season for 4 years. This year we didn’t because I didn’t want to force it on the kids. I would like them to do it on their own but they didn’t so maybe we will try it again next year. Anyway, we have found that during our fast, we play more family games, the kids read more books, we all play more, etc. And at the end of the fast, we have almost forgotten about the screens and they are not the first things we go to anymore. So it has proven to be a wonderful thing for our kids and us.

            I love your idea and am planning to institute it starting tomorrow!! Thank you!! Blessings to you as you try new things and figure out what works for your family!

    • Setting limits on “XYZ” is extremely important! Kids get fixated on screen time and it becomes an inordinate desire in a way that playing outside or reading never could. You would limit dessert, of course, but no one limits the asparagus. Some things need to be moderated.

      • Well said! “..no one limits the asparagus.” Love it and you’re right!
        Love this post, Tsh. Wonderful idea! I’m talking to the hubby about it. :)

  6. Love this! We don’t have a tv but my son watches a lot of shows.online and we have a Wii.we try to limit it. Neither my husband nor I have smart phones or watch tv but I am guilty of web searching. Good luck with your screen Sabbath!
    Kate

  7. We do this too! When we first began, I dreaded it! Now, over a year later, it’s actually my favorite day of the week and I’m looking at how to incorporate more of it’s principles into my regular week. So far “No laptop open when the kids are awake.” has been really helpful in bringing that slow, sabaath pace to the everyday. Great read!

  8. Such a great idea. It’s amazing how much more peaceful our home feels when the TV is off. My preference is that it would be off almost all the time, but I’ve had to give myself a break in my current season of life. Sometimes, I just can’t make dinner without the Sound of Music enthralling the children.

    • Yes, that’s often my preference too, but I have to remember I don’t live alone, and we shower each other with grace in our family. That doesn’t mean we parents aren’t vigilant about screen time or what’s being watched, but I’d be lying if I said our kids didn’t like watching cartoons on Netflix. They do.

  9. This is a great idea, and something that I have been considering a lot more recently. With spring *hopefully* coming soon, I think it will be a bit easier to get outside with the kids and be away from the TV.

  10. My husband and I just began doing this in 2013! We don’t have a television, so for us it’s computer and iPhone based, but it’s been eye-opening as to how much we are checking phones (you don’t realize how much you do it till you take it away, like when you forget to put on your watch and find yourself foolishly glancing at your wrist every 20 minutes) and how much we need a break from them.
    For me this began as a way for non-religious people to still enjoy a Sabbath, which is a beautiful and useful concept, no? Even without belief, I love it. This was our idea to make one day a week a little more sacred… and it works! I’m glad you’re enjoying it too and I’m also glad that you acknowledged it does take a little effort :)

  11. I’ve been thinking of instituting this in our home…we don’t watch movies on Sunday unless it’s a church-type movie, but we still check e-mail and spend more time than we should on the computer. Thank you for the motivation to put this into action!

  12. I love this! My 4 year old wants to watch tv constantly ( he doesn’t get to but throws fits when we say no). We started putting a sign on the tv that says ” no tv day” when the sign is down they don’t even question it but if I forget the sign and say no- more fits. My goal now is to get the tv out of the living room. We have a tv in our room and we get out our projector for movie nights do we’ll still have it but this way it won’t be the focus of the room.

  13. I love this idea, thanks for post this. I’ll talk to my husband and maybe we will implement this, too.

  14. I love this Tsh! I have 2 teens and 1 tween still at home and screen time is ALL the time..with Ipods and phones and such..not necessarily TV but just “screen” time. We would really have to pray this through with our kids for sure because it is such a BIG part of their lives. But I love the idea and I’m going to START dropping hints…
    Blessings!

  15. This is such a worthy endeavor. I have started to try to go computer and smartphone free on weekends. Although I will answer texts and phone calls on my smart phone. It is so hard! We still watch movies together…It’s what we do, but I feel like it is a step in the right direction. What would our ancestors have though of all the time we spend online? I always wonder that…

  16. Where do you find your cool fonts on your photos? I love them.

    We make Friday night “Amish Night” in our house. It’s only a few hours a week, but there’s one night when we just don’t use the TV, computer or smartphones (so hard for us adults!). The first night we did it, we all fell asleep by 8:30 p.m.! Interesting to note how we slept so hard without our phones whirring and beeping at us. Now we play games, talk or do something together as a family.

    Great post!

  17. Interesting idea. We just use Netflix and I love it! But I like to have the tv on for background noise, even if it is just cartoons.

  18. Ugh. Feeling so convicted! Not in the shaming way, in the good healing we need to make a positive change way! It’s time to get the screen time under control.

  19. A friend and I were just talking about this (albeit by email). I like the idea of a screen sabbath. Your graphic about it being good for your soul reminds me of my mantra about vacation– maybe it would help my family to think of it in terms of a vacation. We’re sports fans too, so Sunday might not work but another day (like a Tuesday) just might…. Great idea!

  20. There were periods growing up when both my parents and my husbands parents turned off cable/satellite and of course at the time there was no Netflix or Hulu. It is amazing how many other things you find to do when the TV isn’t an issue. We played outside or with friends, we read, wrote, did crafts, played sports – you find ways to entertain yourself. We weren’t ‘craving’ TV, we didn’t feel deprived, it didn’t make use want to watch it anywhere else because we couldn’t watch it at home, it was a non-issue. We have a 16 month old and she watches Arthur in the morning while she eats her breakfast and we are getting ready for work, but that’s the extent of her TV watching. My husband and I are guilty of screen time and it is something we have talked about turning off or setting a ‘break time’ from. This is a very good idea and something we will discuss together!

  21. Love the overtones of grace. We’re all in different seasons and different stages and we live in the 21st century. I’m very grateful for my smart phone and good kids stuff on Netflix….texting my sister on the other side of the country and keeping my littles happy are important to me. That being said, we strive for balance and the weekends are much more screen free then the weekdays. We did a fast over Christmas and it was fantastic. We don’t have a landline so we need to keep our phones somewhat accessible. =)

  22. Thought provoking idea! I have 14 & 17 yo. At this point we don’t have a landline. We are tv free from Memorial Day to Labor Day every summer. I will have to ponder the all screen free. Kids have their books and homework, research on-line, general phone calls (jobs) etc, but maybe we could not text, tweet,game, etc. 1 day a week? On heavy homework nights all the handhelds are stored away from homework center.

  23. We have a no television-on-weeknights policy, and no-meaningless-channel-surfing policy for every day. Okay, we actually don’t have cable or any kind of tv service, so it is physically impossible to channel surf. Our children don’t have their own tech devices except those that allow music-listening and reading. Somehow getting a kobo for our 8-year-old satisfied her urge for a techie device…she seems happy even though it is an e-reader and not an internet-surfing, time-sucking screen : )

  24. Good idea! I am even tempted to tun the smartphones off and tell folks that if they really need us, then use the landline.

  25. I need to do this. Very badly. I kind of strict about screen time for my kids, but *I* am the guilty party here. If I’m not on FB talking with homeschool moms or my sister-friends, I’m texting them. I need more discipline with this. Definitely.

  26. I so agree with this. Reminds me of a quote from an article that a friend shared with me: “Sabbath doesn’t arrive when everything is tidy and under control. It arrives in the middle. It forces us to stop, not because we’ve finally earned our rest, but because Christ has earned it for us. There is only room to slow our pace because grace offers that pace to us.”

  27. We don’t have a television in our home at all. Its not that hard as the community I live in discourages it so most of my friends and neighbors don’t have any either. We also though, refuse to get smart phones and must be the only people around that use the old, simple text only phones. Interestingly I just spend some time helping my daughter with her kids as she had a new baby and she told me that her and her husband even gave up internet because she has a very busy life and she saw that instead of enhancing her life she was becoming a slave to it and they barely miss it at all. There is a fellow named Paul Miller who works for The Verge that is actually on an internet sabbatical. He is trying to see if he can manage without any internet access for an entire year. He is kind of keeping a diary about it and may be interesting to check out.

  28. This is a great idea and so good that you found the right rhythm for your family.

    We make a point to limit screen time – we don’t have a tv and having Netflix on the computer upstairs in our room is an easy way to limit it because it isn’t automatically accessible. They watch maybe an hour a week, give or take. I’m also not much of a texter or a phone person.

    I do tend to be absorbed in my iPad and I find it hard to limit that. It would be hard to have a day off since much of my cooking reference material (particularly real food recipes) are clipped in my Evernote, as well as family and household planning information. And once you are on the iPad in the kitchen, checking email and Facebook is one touch away. I find it hard not to get absorbed, though I am trying to track that more when I am around my husband and children.

    Sometimes I don’t like how often my husband checks texts… but I am realizing that it helps the balance in our introvert-extrovert marriage. If he can maintain that contact with friends etc, it helps him feel socialized while staying home for quiet nights much of the week. Plus, he is careful not to be constantly checking during dinner, etc.

  29. LOVE this! Now, to get the gumption to do it!

  30. I like the “Amish Night” above. And honestly, for the naysayers who don’t want to limit, do whatever works for your family. But I think we owe it to ourselves, our children, and our families to take a long hard look at the negatives of too much screen time. And there are many negatives, especially for our children and their little brains… ah, don’t let me get started Tsh, this is something I feel so strongly about!

  31. Ha, and I just realized my “latest post” seems somewhat harsh, but I swear it isn’t about screen time at all! ;)

  32. Saw your post on Screen Sabbath because I found your site searching for no-poo stuff. I LOVE the term Screen Sabbath! Beautiful. We are out-doorsy, homeschooling, large family kind of people; kinda crazy. But I have been kicking around the idea, “what would I do without my computer??” I honestly don’t think it would be an easy transition; I liken it to giving up chocolate. But I can do one day a week. So, you’ve inspired me!

  33. We do “TV Days” at our house on Tues/Thurs. The boys watch shows on Netflix in the late afternoon/eve since they are the really long days for us. They get an occasional movie night on the weekends as well. This has worked really well for us bc they know what to expect and when they ask for TV, I ask them if it’s a “TV day” and they tell me yes or no. I definitely feel I have to limit screen time (especially for my older son) because I notice definite mood changes (more meltdowns and whiny-ness) when too much TV is happening.

  34. How fabulous. We are “shomer Shabbos” this means that on Shabbat (friday night to Saturday night) we don’t “work” which includes turning on lights or electricity of any kind, driving, using screens, or lighting a fire (including the stove) It’s AMAZING for the soul. It’s also good that the kids have known and don’t have a choice. We attend shul (the temple) in the morning, lunch with friends, an afternoon nap and book read (writing is also prohibited) and then dinner, sometimes back for evening services. The day goes by fast! It’s good that the stuff is all away and out of sight (we aren’t even allowed to carry our phones) because I find that even if I don’t mean to check it when it’s in my pocket I do. So the machines go off; the house goes quiet; and we can hear our own thoughts and really connect with each other. Dinner on Friday night always lasts hours longer than any other

    • avatar
      Melissa L. says:

      When I was younger I babysat for a family that practiced this and I thought it was so wonderful! It seems so sensible to practice a sundown-sundown sabbath and even though our family isn’t Jewish, I would ideally love to get everyone on board with a sundown – sundown family time. Do you live in a community that practices this in general? Do you frequently have to work around friends or other family members that don’t share this practice (kids’ birthday parties, etc.)?

  35. I am curious if you consider your kindle a “screen?” Love this post!

  36. I’ve recently been convicted to think more intentionally about screen usage in our home too. While we actually have no TV or wifi at home, DVD’s on the laptop and smartphones can quickly replace any other screen. I think as adults (and parents) it’s easy enough to give the kids some rules without checking what we are actually doing ourselves. My 2 girls are still very young (under 2) but it is already something we need to think about! Change our own actions as parents first in order to influence the way our kids grow – that’s what I strive for.

  37. oh, this is a great adventure. We just added movement Sundays. But in fact this is really what the television. Family should not choose tube viewing over family time but yet it happens over and over again.

  38. Excellent idea. We may consider doing something similar.
    Thanks for sharing your family’s practice with us.

  39. I really love this post! My kids are two, so tv time is only just becoming a novelty. But it’s fast becoming a go-to afternoon distraction. We adults also use the tv for an escapism. (also the damn startphones!) But I know I feel much better if I’ve had an early night and read a few chapters or had friends over for a boardgame. A revolution I nigh, me thinks! Thanks for the inspiration Tsh!

  40. We’ve toyed with this idea before, but have never made it a hard and fast rule because we are such sports fans. Inevitably, there is some game on Sunday afternoon that we’d like to watch – as a family. But that’s the key, on Saturdays and Sundays we make efforts to be together as a family. The kids do not watch cartoons on Sunday, so if the TV is on, it is something we enjoy together. We also say no to games on the computer or smart phone on Sunday. I try to then say yes – I’ll read that book with you, or yes, we can go on a bike ride, or yes, let’s play Legos. And I think that is the key: being willing to put forth a little more intentional effort as a family unit to make one day a week (at least) a time to rest, recharge and refocus.

  41. We actually observe Shabbat (loosely), but I love this idea. Maybe doing something like this during the week could work. I want my tot to spend less time in front of a screen – and going cold turkey isn’t going to happen – a screen sabbath could be a good transition.

  42. I think I need to do this too. I tried to make Sundays Twitter-free, but even there I find myself checking tweets out of habit. At church even lol. (My church is okay with it though). i may try and do the total screen free thing too – my family needs it!

  43. I think you would love “Sabbath in the Suburbs” by MaryAnn McKibben Dana. She plunks sabbath right down in the middle of a busy American family and with much grace and wisdom, finds a way to practice it faithfully.

  44. My family has been doing this for over 4 years now, we started it before we even had kids! My daughter doesn’t think twice about “It’s Sunday” as an answer to “can I watch a show?” I find it to be a great break from the desire to plop the kids in front of something – and it forces me to get my face out of my phone/computer – and confronts me with just how addicted I am to that instant information.
    It works really well for our family.

  45. We also used just Hulu and Netflix, but we recently cut off Netflix because it was getting too easy to let the kids watch something. Now it’s more of an effort, we’re using the videos we have, and much of the time the TV doesn’t get turned on like before. We don’t even miss it that much! I still have to be careful how much time I spend on the computer. It seems everything needs to be done on the computer these days. I’m still trying to figure out a balance for myself.

  46. That sounds nice. I recently decided to disconnect from the Internet Friday night to Sunday night. I am really loving it. it has made a big difference in my attitude

  47. We adopted this practice a few years ago as well and we call it Screen Sabbath too since we do it on Sundays. It’s been a blessing especially for my husband to untie himself from his phone

  48. Bravo! Love this practice — setting limits — Kids, parents, singles — we all need it or we’re on a runaway train of activity and occupation, and we’ll never slow down. No technology at all (exception of background music to enhance the mood) at whatever shared-meal table is essential too. How can people have meaningful conversation with dings and notifications sounding off constantly during meals? Thanks for this post.

  49. On a completely unrelated note, your haircut is adorable!

  50. Our family decided to give up TV for Lent this year, except for cartoons on Saturday morning. It has been WONDERFUL!!!! My husband and I have shared long conversations in the evenings, instead of scrolling around channels. We’re also reading books again (Right now I can’t put down A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller – great suggestion, Tsh!). And our kids are using their afternoon and evening time for such terrific projects together. We pulled out all of the old board games and puzzles and sit around the fireplace together showing off our competitive sides. It makes me just want to throw the TV out for good and never go back! It’s funny, because we really didn’t watch that much TV before, but clearly even a little TV time was hampering our creativity and togetherness time. Cutting it out altogether has been such a blessing!

  51. If only…my husband is into everything technology, and my kids are quickly following in his footsteps. If I would suggest this to him, he would laugh at me. I can so see the value in this, though. I’m gonna suggest it to him, anyway. Cute hair, by the way!

  52. I love this idea. We have the TV on in the same way almost every day. Mindfully with a cartoon or two on Netflix. Usually while I’m cooking dinner because sometimes it’s so hard to cook dinner with little ones running amok (although on my better days, I let my toddler and preschooler help me cook dinner and accept the idea that I’ll be spending some extra time cleaning up). Anyway, we try to spend one day a weekend at the beach which means we’re screen free because they’re not available and our phones don’t take well to sun and sand. It always feels really, really good at the end of the day.

  53. Beautiful! I was raised without a TV and believe it gave me a great imagination. Love the idea of a screen Sabbath — especially the cell phone screen.

  54. I love this idea, I swore I would never be one of those mom’s who gave their kids an Iphone while out to dinner just to keep them happy but I keep doing it! This is just a great reminder of how dependent we ALL are on technology and sometimes its nice to unwind and shut it off and just enjoy each other’s company. We’ll definitely be trying this out in my house!

  55. Hi all! I would love help on this one. I stay home and my boys (age 2 and 3) love to watch a couple cartoons (team umi zoomi is the favorite) when they come downstairs in the morning as we get breakfast and clothes going. Neither of them are morning people and aren’t interested in much interaction first thing. I have coffee and they have umi zoomi to wake up! :) I would love to know how other little kids wake up and what types of activity are first in their days. Thanks for any new perspective and ideas!

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