I Put Down My Phone for 24 Hours, and You Can, Too!

I did the unthinkable: I put down my  phone for 24 hours, and I lived to tell the tale. I am telling it right now, in fact. This is the tale. With pictures! From an actual camera! So retro!

When I joined Facebook a decade ago, I just wanted to share pictures of my kids (I only had 2!) and catch up with my high school friends. As you all know, the platform evolved a lot in the last 10 years, making it possible to spend way too much time checking in and watching your notifications pop up.  Same with Instagram. It was a place I wanted to be a part of for the cool filters and the artsy pictures of my kids (now 4 of them!), but it, too, has grown to be a major time suck.

In her book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair argues that we hear a lot about the dangers of kids and too much screen time, but she cautions us to remember the other side of the coin as well: parents who are distracted by our devices, using them to check-out of the boring parts of family life, and giving our kids the impression that we aren’t really there for them. As you can imagine, this zombie parenting has all kinds of terrible effects, and it wasn’t until my own kids became phone-users (my 13 year-old and 11 year-old both have iPhones) that I started to think about them. What if my kids think I don’t care about their problems, so they confide in someone else instead of me? What if I don’t even notice their problems because I am so caught up in my phone? What if they think my online life is more important than the actual one I am living everyday? What if I do? What if they spent as much time on their phones as I do on mine?

With these questions in mind, I decided to give up my precious for a whole day, just a normal day home with the kids, and here’s what I found:

The Good:

I was so much more patient with the kids! I didn’t feel like they were constantly interrupting me because they weren’t. I wasn’t living a life on Facebook or Instagram– I was paying attention to to them.

I used a real camera! For a whole day! Not my giant DSLR, but an adorable pocket-sized point-and-shoot. To be honest, that was one worry that kept me from giving up my phone: how would I still record our day? Luckily with a camera and an amazing cord that lets me import pictures from my SD card right to my iPhone, I could put this silly concern to bed like a toddler coming off a birthday party sugar rush–quickly, but with a little bit of a temper tantrum.

I read two books in one afternoon.

I saved untold amounts of money by NOT shopping on my phone during the kids’ swim lessons.

I found myself with lots of free time because all of my normal housework took less time without constant interruptions to scroll my social media feeds and feel inadequate.

The Bad:

I am sure it’s just the narcissism talking, but I am more fun parent when I am performing motherhood for an imagined audience. Like, why make fun-shaped PB&J sandwiches if I am, not doing it for the virtual head pats? Why take little video snippets if I’m not going to caption them ironically for my Stories? WITHOUT MY FAKE FRIENDS WHO IS GOING TO SEE THAT I AM A GOOD MOM? Besides my kids. OH RIGHT. MY KIDS, the people who are supposed to be my parenting audience in the first place. Wow– deep thoughts. Deep thoughts that I would not have had STARING AT MY PHONE.

I felt kind of twitchy and reached for my phone at least 35 times before noon.

The Ugly:

I am so used to taking pictures of everything that using a real camera didn’t mean my pics were any better than before. They might have even been worse because my iPhone shutter is instantaneous, and my custom Lightroom presets are amazing. But! Let me show you my unplugged day:

Ironically, I unplugged on Screen Time Thursday, which is a summer thing we are trying out, so the kids started their morning with a viewing of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.

Can’t shake the habit of photographing my food, and I was super proud of this hummus and veggie wrap, completely assembled from my tremendous Aldi haul.
Ditto my oldest 2 kids’ naan pizza lunches with basil growing on my very own kitchen window sill.
One kid’s nicely coloring rainbow love signs, the other drawing natural disasters. Dorothy and Cooper are always on-brand.
This guy always starts his day with 2 hours of dive team practice, and this is always where we find him when the rest of us straggle to the pool for diving and swimming lessons.
Now with bonus man bun!
A bummer all around.
Now that my 6 year-old is the only kid still in swimming lessons, these guys have a bro picnic everyday while they wait for her to finish up.
I couldn’t get any action shots because my camera is kind of slow, but here’s my little rising first grader scolding me from the diving board.
Being a SAHM with 4 kids in the summer is NOT AN EASY JOB. Thank goodness for early evening acupuncture at Poke Acupuncture Clinic to make my anxiety melt away.
I stopped by my 7 year-old’s room before I went to bed to turn out his lights and found these truly scary pictures. He wants to be a storm chaser and an author when he grows up, so I guess he’s on his way. To therapy.
Dorothy closed out her day with a post-bedtime toy-nado in her room. Luckily, now that I am phone-free, I will have two hands and tons of extra time to clean it all up.

So there you have it: my phone-free day. Now it’s your turn to unplug and tune in– let me know how it goes.

Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 5 (F I V E) children: teens Harry and Jack, elementary schoolers Cooper and Dorothy, and sweet baby Minnie, born in August 2020. Sarah blogs about being a mom of many at harrytimes.com and overshares on IG as @sarahjedd. Sarah, her husband, and their kids live in Verona with the world's laziest dog.


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