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Taking a ‘Tech Shabbat’ each Sunday

For a few months now, my family and I have been putting our screens away from Saturday to Sunday evening. Everything goes into a locked box (yes, laptops, phones, i-pads, all of it) and I place the key in a hidden place in case it feels too tempting to take a quick peek.

Have my children (aged 11, 14 and 15) been happy about this? Not initially, no. And one or two of them still have moments of vociferously opposing it. So why are we doing it? Why bother?

Rewind several months and I was listening to one of my favourite podcasters, Krista Tippett, interviewing a woman named Tiffany Shlain about her decade-long practice of ‘Tech Shabbat.’ (The interview was entitled ‘We’ve been enmeshed with our technologies. Tech Shabbat for everyone?) This entails resting from screens for 24 hours and has resulted in her book 24/6: Giving Up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection. I remember I was washing up as I was listening to it and I literally stood stock still and thought, I really, really want to do this but could it ever work in my family? Could we possibly try it?

I’m not saying it’s always been easy, but we are doing it. We have woven Tech Shabbat into our lives. In the early days of implementing it, it came as a real shock just how many dozens of times I was reaching for my phone during the day. I use it for finding recipes, for music, for podcasts, for maps to get us places, for weather reports, for timers on the oven; and this is without the other everyday distractions of WhatsApp, phone calls, email, Instagram and Duolingo (you can insert your own personal distractions there).

Yes, we come unstuck sometimes. For example, my husband took my son to rugby practice once only to find out it had been cancelled and he hadn’t seen the message that morning. Then there was another time we were driving around and getting frustrated because we couldn’t find where we were meant to be going as we no longer carry maps in the car. If my children are making plans for Sunday, we now encourage them to get everything organised the day before and their friends are slowly coming to know and understand that they won’t be able to get hold of them that day by phone. (I have no doubt some are horrified by this archaic-sounding screen-free day and this ‘weird’ event that takes place in our household). Apart from a few hiccups here and there, the kids have now sunk into a gentle acceptance of it. My eldest even says she welcomes it.

When the devices are put away, something physical happens in my body; it’s like a deep exhale and my nervous system instantaneously settles. I can truly relax for the first time all week. I don’t need to worry about if one of my children are spending way too long online and I don’t need to worry about replying to all those messages, because I’m not going to see them. At least, not on that day.

It’s a strange thing, but time honestly seems to slow down without all those devices and distractions. The day stretches out slow and syrupy and calm and we all agree by dusk that it has felt like a longer-than-average length day (definitely in a good way.)

Here’s a few things I’ve been doing with my Sundays when I’m at home:

  • Giving the house plants their weekly watering and tending
  • Mending clothes
  • Playing the ukulele, piano or guitar
  • Studying Spanish (I speak Spanish but it’s rusty and recently I’ve wanted to improve so have taken some grammar books out of the library)
  • Reading
  • Trying to get up to date with my photo albums
  • Working in our outside patio area

Are you tempted to give it a try in your own household?

If so, here are a few tips:

⭑ Listen to the podcast I mentioned above that inspired me to incorporate it into our lives.

⭑ You don’t need to be dogmatic about it. Do what works for you and your family. If this means trying it for a morning or an afternoon, great. If this means taking your phone out because you are concerned about the wheareabouts of your child, absolutely fine. If this means keeping a phone to hand but out of sight because you need to be contactable in case of an emergency, well of course. Do whatever works for you and your own circumstances. (On the same note of not being dogmatic, my eldest is nearly sixteen, soon heading to sixth form college and I’m conscious that she also needs her own autonomy to make choices so of course if she wants to phase it out at that stage, she can. But I hope she’ll still be involved in some element of it Let’s see…)

⭑ Make a list of Sunday activities you can turn to for those moments of feeling bored. This could be particularly helpful for children.

Let me know if you try it! I’d love to know how you get on. For me, it has been truly life-changing.

Rebecca Stonehill

Thank you for reading this blog post. Compliment it with a reflection on the sometimes less-than-true stories we tell ourselves & a personal interview with Jill’s Book Cafe Blog.

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