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Families Unplug for One Week in Screen-Free Challenge

Three local families forgo their tablets, TVs, computers and smartphones for one week – one long week. Find out how they fared – and whether you could go screen-free like them.

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The Oatis Family of Detroit

Donald, Father
Allia, Mother
Jordan, son, 7

Digital profile

Jordan watches cartoons on Netflix and Hulu Plus and loves Disney shows. He plays games on a Nabi 2 tablet made especially for kids. Normally Jordan is allowed screen time in the morning after he's made his bed, gotten dressed for school and packed his backpack. He also gets screen time after school once his homework is done. There's no TV after 8 p.m., which is Jordan's bedtime.

Donald mostly watches news and sports on TV, which he has a tendency to leave on as background noise, while Allia's guilty pleasures include celebrity websites, online quizzes and Instagram.

Initial reaction

When Allia announced to the family that they would be participating in Metro Parent's Unplug Challenge, her husband thought she was joking. He agreed in hopes the family would find more time to connect. Jordan, however, was not happy. 

"Mommy, a week is forever!" he said.

Biggest challenge

For Allia Oatis, the challenge was a lot tougher than she thought, and made her realize how often she compulsively checks Instagram, emails and texts.

It was also hard to keep Jordan busy. The family recently moved to a new home, so he doesn't have playmates in the neighborhood. Many of their board games and toys were still packed in boxes.

"The first day we started, I will admit it felt like the day was longer because we didn't have those little fillers," Allia says.

Ironically, the family spent their first evening mounting a flat-screen TV on the wall of their new home, even though they couldn't watch it.

On the fourth day, when Jordan's school was canceled due to snow, Allia was forced to work from home. She tried to find ways to keep Jordan occupied, but eventually caved.

"He had read books, drawn pictures, done cutouts, played with the dog. I didn't have anything else for him to do," Allia says. "I hit the wall."

When Allia told Jordan to turn on cartoons, he brought up the challenge.

"My son said, 'But Mommy, we can't watch TV, so we aren't doing what we said we were gonna do.' Children are the mirror," Allia says. "So I told him, 'But we also promised we would be honest about what happened and that's what we're going to do.'" With that, she texted her husband and called off the challenge.

Looking back

Overall, Allia says her family focused more on each other once the distractions were taken away, and recommends others try their own digital diet to pinpoint how much they use technology as a crutch.

"People say 'Oh, I'm not addicted' – until you take the screens away. The moment you take them away, you realize how much you use them," Allia says. "It's the only thing you can think about."

Going forward

Allia says the family plans to turn off the TV during dinner and may consider unplugging for shorter time periods.

"A week is too long. I think a day here or there would be useful," she says.

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