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What happened when ... we started screen-free Sundays image

What happened when ... we started screen-free Sundays

An experiment in becoming the family we want to be.

Do you have a story to share about ‘What happened when …’ your family tried something new or experienced God’s guidance, help or answered prayer? At Growing Faith we’d love to hear encouraging stories from ordinary Christian families. If you have a story to share, write to us here.

A few years ago, I read The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Place by Andy Crouch (Baker Book House, 2017). It’s a very challenging book, in that some of its recommendations are unrealistic for most modern families. But reading it convinced me that we needed to become more intentional about our family’s use of technology.

See our review of a more recent book, Raising Tech-Healthy Humans, by Australian author Daniel Sih.

Crouch very helpfully foregrounds our God-given purpose as human beings: we’re made to create, rather than just consume; to share in deep, real-life relationships and to learn real-life skills for enjoying and mastering the world around us. When it comes to technology, we have to ask whether it is helping or hindering us from doing these things. Crouch describes how technology makes things ‘easy-everywhere’, which usually works against us growing in character and competence as God intended. For example, when we can push a button and hear any piece of music we like, we have less motivation to learn how to sing or play that song ourselves. Or when we can enjoy ‘easy’ conversations with people like us online, we don’t learn how to engage with people who are different.

When I read Crouch’s book, I absorbed and applied what I could, but it was hard to get the other members of my family on board. However, about a month ago, my husband independently came across Crouch’s rule for ‘digital Sabbath-keeping’. Crouch recommends that families make this commitment:

‘We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.’ (Tech-Wise Family, Introduction).

That day, my husband came up with a great idea: ‘screen-free Sundays’. But the big challenge? This was going to be for the adults as much as the kids! My husband and I would put our phones away for the day, and our kids wouldn’t have any screen time. Instead, we’d focus on doing things together as a family (beginning with going to church). So what happened when we started screen-free Sundays?

The day felt longer

The first ‘screen-free Sunday’ we had was a rainy day … and it went by very slowly. Compared to the rushing and racing that often happens on school days, it has been wonderful to feel so unhurried on Sundays. Without the constant distraction of my phone, my brain slows down to a more relaxed pace too.

We enjoyed simple pleasures

With hours of time to spend together, we can take turns choosing the activities. Since our children range in age from fourteen down to three, this means we regularly find ourselves playing simple games like hide-and-seek. When there are no ‘cooler’ or ‘flashier’ options, the older kids start enjoying whichever kind of low-tech fun is on offer. The big draw card is that we are all doing it together—even mum and dad. And we have a great time!

We got creative

We’re always on the lookout for ‘real life’ things to do on Sundays—activities where we’re creating, rather than consuming. So far we’ve played music, made up new games, cooked together, built cubby houses and worked in the garden.

We stepped back in time

When we go ‘analogue’ for a day, my husband and I find ourselves telling our kids what things were like when we were younger—when there were only four television channels and no streaming services, when you had to ask strangers for help (or use a phone box!) if you had a problem, when you had to drive with a street directory on your lap, when you had to remember everyone’s phone numbers off by heart …

I think having a taste of life ‘in the olden days’ has been a valuable experience.

I realised how much of a screen habit I had

Putting my phone away for the day has also made me realise how often I usually reach for it. Whether it’s a ‘quick check’ of Facebook or making sure I hadn’t missed an email, my mind had developed a habit of seeking connection to the ‘cyberworld’ outside my home—and ‘checking out’ of what was happening around me. Taking a day to resist that reflex helps me and my husband to make sure that we’re not ‘addicted’ to social media and other forms of communication. I’m now finding it much easier to resist the lure of the phone on other days too.

We read more books

Most of our children have been happy to have some quiet time for personal reading on Sundays. We have also tried to make time for reading a chapter book aloud. This is the sort of thing I would dearly love to be part of our family’s daily routine (and it has been at times). But screen-free Sunday has provided the perfect opportunity to get back into it.

Something that I hadn’t anticipated was how much more reading I’ve done personally since we started switching off on Sundays. When you’re not being distracted reading by an article here or a comment thread there, you have much more time and ‘brain space’ to read through a whole book. And immersing yourself in one sustained storyline or train of thought is much more enriching than chasing many scattered and unrelated threads at once.

The kids got bored (sometimes)

Our younger children don’t (or can’t) read as much as their older siblings, so it can be hard to keep them engaged all day. One week, our nine-year-old was almost in tears with boredom. He wanted to play a game, but the others were reading. He really, really, really wanted to play his favourite game on the iPad. But his boredom forced him to look around for fun …

We played outside

Since the kids were sometimes ‘bored’ they looked out the window to see what their neighbours were doing. On a few occasions, we’ve joined in the neighbours’ front yard soccer practice; another week we joined them for a swim in their pool. On Sundays, the kids come along when I walk the dog.

We had more visitors

Knowing that we couldn’t just ‘veg’ in front of screens for the day has meant that we’ve been more open to last-minute invitations. Some weeks we’ve ended up visiting family or friends and other weeks, we’ve had people over to our place. The kids seem to be more positive about spending time with other people, because they know there’s no ‘better’ option that day.

We enjoyed family movie nights

Yes, that’s right—we’ve watched movies together on a screen! The point of screen-free Sunday is to do things as a family. So there’s a place for using technology if it achieves this goal. To paraphrase Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27, ‘The digital Sabbath was made for man, not man for the digital Sabbath’. A helpful commitment from The Tech-Wise Family is:

‘We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.’ (Tech-Wise Family, Introduction)

This new rhythm of screen-free Sundays is helping us to become the kind of family that we always wanted to be. It’s helping us to take time to engage in real relationships and activities in the real world and develop the kind of character and competence that those things require. It’s not about saying ‘no’, but about saying ‘yes’ to something much better.

As Andy Crouch writes:

‘This better way involved radically re-committing ourselves to what family is about—what real life is about. Our homes aren’t meant to be just refueling stations, places where we and our devices rest briefly, top up our charge, and then go back to frantic activity. They are meant to be places where the very best of life happens.’ (The Tech-Wise Family, Introduction).

Do you have a story to share about ‘What happened when …’ your family tried something new or experienced God’s guidance, help or answered prayer? At Growing Faith we’d love to hear encouraging stories from ordinary Christian families. If you have a story to share, write to us here.


Harriet Connor is the Content Editor for Growing Faith and the author of Families in God's Plan: 12 Foundational Bible Studies and Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life (Wipf and Stock, 2017). She lives on the Central Coast of NSW with her husband and four sons.


Families in God's Plan

These 12 studies will help parents, grandparents and other interested Christians to understand God’s view of families and how that relates to their own experiences. As well as providing a solid introduction to what Scripture says, these studies also encourage participants to get practical, applying what they uncover to their own family life.

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