What happened when 24 teens gave up screens for a week

When teacher Thea Nicholas pitched the idea that her students go screen-free for a week, it was as popular as a flat iPod.

“You can imagine the look of disgust on their face when I first told them. Giving up screens is like chopping off their arm – they are completely dependent on them.”

Brentwood Secondary College students give up their screens

Billy, Jess, Trixia and Nat with teacher Thea Nicholas give up their screens

With a bit of negotiation, the 24 Environmental Science students from Melbourne’s Brentwood Secondary College agreed to give up screens from Sunday morning to Friday evening. The week was cut short so they could watch the AFL Grand Final.

No screens meant no television, no iPods, no smartphones, no computer, no Internet, no electronic games. They could use a phone – even a mobile – to call someone, but no texting.

What they discovered

  • Many families don’t have a landline.
  • Television was the hardest to give up – one student reported watching 6 hours a day prior to the experiment. Facebook and gaming were the other things the students found difficult to go without.
  • The kids who found it the easiest were the more outdoorsy and sporty types.
  • The main activities they turned to were reading and doing thing outside. “Lots of kids who wouldn’t normally go outside went out for a walk or to kick a ball around,” said Thea.
  • They got much more sleep, and better quality sleep. Thea said: “Teenagers are checking Facebook before they go to bed, then while they are sleeping they get an alert that a new message has come through so will wake to check it, and then in the morning their alarm goes off on their smartphone and they check Facebook again.”
  • Many kids caved around days 3 and 4. Reasons given were ‘boredom’ and the need for social interaction through Twitter and Facebook.

Thea was especially pleased that many of the students headed outdoors. “If they are not going outside having emotional connection to nature, they won’t value it and won’t save it,” she said.

The experiment got the students talking about lots of different topics, including consumerism, environmentalism, violent screen games, and obesity in Australia.

5 tips to holding a screen-free challenge at home

Parents showed a lot of interest in the experiment. Thea said parents are concerned about their kids’ screen time, but feel they can’t police it. She offers these 5 tips to conducting a screen-free challenge at home:

  1.  Set it up in a way they will want to do it. Teenagers are going to feel very isolated and will need some support.
  2. Negotiate the duration and any other ‘rules’.
  3. Offer some kind of reward at the end. Perhaps even make it a friendly competition amongst family members.
  4. Ask kids to keep a diary or journal – circle what the weather was, how they felt (happy, sad or same). This helps give them an awareness of how and why they use screens.
  5. If you are asking your teens to give up screens, parents should too (perhaps allowing them only at work).

What the kids say

Natalie – Year 10:
Before the challenge I used my iPhone the most, about 6 to 8 hours per day. I use it for everything including Internet, Facebook, checking my emails, calling and texting. During the week I found it pretty hard, as I couldn’t reply to friends via text or Facebook. Also, because it was holidays, the days I would stay at home were pretty boring as I couldn’t relax in front of the TV.

I did do some things that I probably wouldn’t have done if I did have screen time. For example, I went to the market with my mum, and I baked a few cakes. I go for walks most days after school, but without screen time, some days I went for two walks, just to pass some time.

Overall, I thought this was a great experience to be a part of and I feel I got a lot out of it. Until now I didn’t even realise how much I relied on screen time!

Nicholas – Year 11:
This challenge was difficult as there wasn’t anyone around for me to do things with and the weather was also really bad and that prevented me from doing things in the backyard as it was too wet.

During the challenge I tried not to use technology but sometimes I forgot or I got really bored. There were only two of the days when I didn’t use any technology at all. In the other days during the challenge I tried not to use as much technology as possible and used a max of 2 hours per day.

Billy – Year 10:
Prior to the challenge, I used my laptop for about 4 to 6 hours a day and I used my iPod for about an hour a day. I mainly used these devices to pass the time and occasionally doing homework. When I attempted the challenge I found that I was spending more time outside and doing homework just to pass the time.

Emily – Year 10:
I was successful for the first day, however by the second day I began to feel extremely bored and frustrated because I hadn’t talked to most of my friends, which I normal do through texting and Facebook. It was on the beginning of the second day when I received a text from a friend who needed to talk to me, and I logged onto Facebook.

 

 

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