By: Tiffany Shlain
Back in 2017, we were among the very last holdouts to give our ninth grade daughter a smartphone. Other parents thought we were a little extreme. The truth is, we’re more extreme than they even realize. For the past ten years we’ve done a radical practice: going completely screen-free as a family for a full day every week. This shocks people. What shocks them even more is that our daughters actually love it, and that it helps them flourish.
This began a decade ago when two dramatic life-and-death events happened within days of each other (my father died and my second daughter was born), forcing me to rethink how I was living my life and to look for a way to change it. I found it. We started turning off all screens from Friday night to Saturday night with our daughters for what we call our Technology Shabbats. Ten years later, the benefits continue to grow and become more profound individually, as a family, and as a form of self-protection from the always “on” 24/7 world.
It’s the day we feel walled off from all the pressure. Sometimes life feels like that scene from the first Star Wars where Luke, Princess Leia and Han Solo are all in that garbage compactor, swimming in the stressful news headlines and social buzz, as tweets and notifications close in on us.
On our Tech Shabbats, when we turn all that off, we feel liberated and free. The day has a long luxurious feeling to it. We have a chance to rest and regroup so we can be better equipped to deal with it all. We read, reflect, nap, hang on the floor, bike ride, cook, and spend time together as a family in a way that just doesn’t happen any other day.
This time together is important. These are crucial years. The issue of young, malleable minds, at their most intense stage of development, being handed a supercomputer was what first gave us pause on getting our daughter a smartphone at age ten, six years ago. At that point we were outliers. Then the research which confirmed our gut feelings on all of this started to emerge.
Until I learned about Wait Until 8th, I felt like I was alone wandering an unfamiliar and daunting galaxy where everyone was staring down at their phones, and we were the aliens who’d waited until ninth grade to get our daughter a smartphone (she’d had a flip phone, rarely used, before that). Then WU8 came along, and we found “the others.” There are other parents worried too? They are banding together? They are asking for change!? There’s hope!
Already, there’s been a big shift. At our daughter’s high school Back to School night, one of the teachers showed us the cellphone pouches they keep near the door. “This is where we have the students check their phones at the start of class and then retrieve them afterwards. We used to just think they could self-regulate using their phones, but then we realized that it was like putting a big pile of cocaine on a table in the center of the classroom and asking them not to touch it.” That analogy stopped me in my tracks. Tech companies have thousands of behavioral scientists ready to addict our kids (and us) so we stay on our phones, checking them an average of 80 times a day (millennials check their phones an astounding 150 times daily). Talk about a Jedi mind trick.
We need to push back, as more and more parents are. The entire country of France has banned phones from schools until age 15, as did a high school in San Mateo, California. In March, California introduced legislation to ban smartphones from schools in the entire state. And, of course, there’s Wait Until 8th. At my younger daughter’s elementary school, and in our district, many parents have now signed the pledge to wait until 8th grade to get their kids a smartphone with more simple phones before then.
I’m eager to have a larger conversation about tech use and our humanity. I recently authored a book about how impactful our family’s decade-long practice of Tech Shabbat has been. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week was published by Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books today. The book interweaves our own story of how it has completely transformed our lives, with a deep dive into the neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, history, and benefits of both having technology and having a day of rest -- turning the screens off, one day every week (living 24/6).
I know our weekly Tech Shabbats have made my kids much more mindful of technology. And believe it or not, they actually enjoy their time off screens. Tech Shabbat is a get-to, not a have-to. People often ask me, “How will I get my kids or partner on board?” The answer is simple: fill the day with the things that they love. It will become everyone’s favorite day of the week.
I realize taking a full day off is something not every family can do. It used be that being online was a sign of privilege, but in the past ten years, that’s changed. And unlike the tech titans of Silicon Valley, who, ironically, ban smartphones for both their children and the nannies who watch them, many of us sometimes rely on screens as child care when we absolutely need to get things done. But if you can, I urge you to reclaim your family time, and stop sharing it with screens.
Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, creator of the Webby Awards and the author of 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week. Tiffany also started Character day. This is a global day dedicated to developing character strengths like empathy, perspective, courage. This year, Character Day will ask people to look at their relationship between screen use and their character strengths. Visit characterday.org to sign up or to learn more about how your family can adopt a Tech Shabbat practice.
Please consider delaying the smartphone for your child with the Wait Until 8th pledge. There are so many reasons to wait. Currently the average age a child receives a smartphone is 10 years old despite the many distractions and dangers that comes with this technology. Join more than 20,000 parents by signing the pledge today.
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