• A Mom Tried Digital Detox on Her 6-Year-Old and Lived to Tell It All
    IMAGE Loraine Balita-Centeno
  • Like most other parents, we didn't realize the harmful effects of excess gadget use when we first introduced it to our kids a couple of years back. It seemed like a simple new technology back then, until we started reading recent results of research after research from experts around the world detailing how prolonged use could negatively affect the well-being of a child. 

    What made us finally decide to put a stop to it though was seeing how addictive gadget use can get for some kids and how prolonged use can affect their attention span and behavior. It can make some kids irritable, impatient, so easily bored when offline, and unable to focus on some tasks.  

    We decided that the only way to curb the need to use the tablet or phone all the time was to put our 6-year-old son through what others call "digital detox." We removed his gadgets from the picture for a few weeks until he stopped depending on it too much.

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    The first day was the most difficult not just for our son but for us, too. We had to stick to our decision and not be tempted to give in and hand over the phone even just for a few minutes to soothe him. It was a decision my husband and I promised to enforce and see through. 

    It was tough for a few more days. We had to stay firm but calm so we could talk to our kid and patiently explain the purpose of the detox. We had to spend more time with him to help him make sense of the changes and answer his questions. We had to give him lots of hugs and encouragement too. 

    And because we had to take away something that had kept him entertained and occupied for so long, we had to reintroduce my son to the fun life offline. This required time, patience, and lots of energy as we had to teach him activities and keep him away from the lure of the gadgets.

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    Our one-week detox turned into two weeks until without realizing it's been more than a month now. Our son has gotten used to not using a gadget that he has stopped asking for it. We didn't know that this was ever going to be possible.

    Here are other amazing changes we've seen after our son's digital detox.

    1. My son started playing with his toys again.

    solo play
    It was beautiful to see my son play with real toys on his own.
    PHOTO BY Loraine Balita-Centeno

    After a week, our kid started noticing toys he hasn't played with in a while. He searched for ways to entertain himself. He also started playing with his 3-year-old sister more. They did pretend play, built Lego castles, played luto-lutuan, and made paper planes and boats.

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    2. My son started helping out with chores at home more.

    He got so bored out of his wits he started to look for things to do. Helping out around the house began to seem like a fun activity to do. He started cleaning his playroom more with enthusiasm, and not just to be rewarded with gadget time. He started concentrating on the task and enjoying it. I never thought I would see my two children fight over who gets to wipe the table.

    sibling play
    The lack of gadgets made my son play with his 3-year-old sister more.
    PHOTO BY Loraine Balita-Centeno

    3. My son has become less irritable and impatient.

    We noticed before he would get mad at little inconveniences like his iPad having a low battery charge, a missing charger, and an unstable Internet connection. His attention span was affected as he got so used to the flashy images on the screen. When he was away from the iPad and is in the real world, he craved the fast-paced cut scenes and flashes on the screen. 

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    After two to three weeks of taking away his gadget, my son got less irritated. He doesn't get bored quite as much and has become more patient. He has also become calmer and much more relaxed. He's able to sit and wait longer.

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    4. My son has become more active.

    Since taking away the iPad, my kid has started running all over the house playing. He also goes out more and has more time and energy to interact with other people. In gatherings, he’s not in a corner with his head down but instead, he's trying to talk to people.They do tend to ask more questions now (sometimes endless) because they tend to notice little details in their surroundings more.

    no screen
    At night, my son makes shadow figures and shapes or plays paper toys with his sister.
    PHOTO BY Loraine Balita-Centeno

    5. My son became more open to learning new things.

    After our gadget detox, we noticed our kid getting more interested in learning to cook, bake and do other things. It was like a fresh way to see the world. The real world seemed so exciting and fun.

    We don't know yet when we can gradually introduce the new and very limited gadget time at home because they seem to be enjoying their time away from it right now anyway.

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    One downside to the digital detox has a messier, nosier house — toys all over, craft materials here and there — since you'll have to let kids' imagination take over. This is something you'd need to accept and be ready for before you start your kids' digital detox. It will also need more of your uninterrupted time and energy as you try to channel your inner kid and teach them how it was like to have fun without gadgets back when we were kids. 

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    For parents who are thinking of reducing their kids' gadget use, who feel that their kids are getting so addicted they want to do something about it really finally, remember that the first few days are the most difficult both for your child and for you as you get used to not depending on a gadget to keep kids occupied. It's a lot of hard work, and it requires patience and maybe undoing all the things we were so used to before. But seeing the results are going to be worth it.

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