What On Earth is an Electronics Fast?
Several years ago I read a great book called Growing Grateful Kids, written by Susie Larson. (This is my amazon affiliate link. Should you choose to order through this link, Tried and True Mom Reviews will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.) Susie wrote about fasting in a way that has permanently stuck with me.
What is Fasting?
If you are unfamiliar with the term fasting, it essentially means going without something, usually food, for a period of time for a purposeful reason. There are trendy food fasts, meant to reset metabolism or burn fat, etc. There is also fasting that centers around faith. The Bible refers to fasting as refraining from food, for a set time period, for the purposes of intentional prayer and focus on God. This is an extremely simple explanation to a topic that has spurred on many hours of sermons and a variety of books.
A section of Growing Grateful Kids began with an honest observation, “In this day of entitlement, self-restraint has become a lost art.” (Page 51). Oh, how true this is! Today, we are programmed and hard wired to expect a drop down menu. We have unlimited entertainment options instantly, at our fingertips. Want the new release of a movie? Order it on amazon and watch it in seconds, a whole week before physical DVDs are available for purchase. Need printer ink, toilet paper, a new device or gadget, a want or need? It can be delivered to your door in 2 days, without setting foot in a store.
So, Why Fast?
We have so very few things that make us wait today. Immediate gratification has become an expectation. And, it is a dangerous way to live. Susie shares that health struggles prevented her from fasting from food for a long period of time, so she looked alternatives to food fasts. She writes, “One of the biggest reasons I practiced fasting was because I wanted nothing to master me. Whenever I settled into a regular indulgence to the point of needing to have “it” to be happy, I knew it was time to go without that particular thing….Not for legalism’s sake, but for freedom’s sake…To me, practicing restraint was like exercising a muscle. The more often I said no to myself, the easier it was to do so when it really mattered.” (Page 52).
This resonated with me personally. When she started talking about extending this practice of fasting to her children, I was especially intrigued. She began to watch for things that were gaining a hold on her kids’ time or attention and then she would have them fast for a time. “…it is important to note that fasting from a toy or a movie was not considered a punishment but rather an opportunity for my boys to grow in health and gratitude.” And, with that, I was sold on this idea.
Privilege and Entitlement
My kids live a privileged life. That doesn’t mean that they don’t go without. They wear hand me downs and garage sale clothes along with some new items. They don’t have the trendiest shoes or gadgets. They aren’t involved in club sports and they have to have “skin in the game” for their activities and outings, meaning, they help to pay for trips and activities outside of our family. They still live a privileged life. They are American. They are white. They have married, happy parents. They have grandparents and even great-grandparents who want relationships with them. They have clothes and shoes and beds and heat and a house and pets and vehicles that don’t go without maintenance or the ability to fill them with gas and they never ever go hungry.
With privileged lives, entitlement can easily follow. I have to regularly be intentional to combat entitlement personally, but also in my children, as their parent. Remember the quote from above? “Whenever I settled into a regular indulgence to the point of needing to have ‘it’ to be happy, I knew it was time to go without that particular thing.” In our house, screen time easily slides into becoming a perceived “need.” Anxiety grows heightened. Tensions arise when devices slow or malfunction. If the internet is sluggish, irritation arises all around. We get snippy with one another when interrupted from our screens. Cries of protest and argument call out when it is time for screens to be turned off.
These glowing objects that we think we need make us awfully cranky.
Because of Growing Grateful Kids, I began instituting random fasts from electronics/technology. For a few years, my Noah referred to these times as “Electronogy Free.” The kids don’t know when a fast is coming. Many times, I don’t know that a fast is coming until my mothering instinct tells me that it is essential. Sometimes we need a reset. The fast is primarily for the kids, because as adults, our phones manage a very large chunk of communication and schedules, but it does limit the way Jason and I use screens during the fast too.
This remarkable thing happens when screen time is not an option. The kids find activities to occupy their free time. They look to their built in playmates, a perk of a large family. Games come off the shelves. Balls get thrown around outside. The basketball hoop gets used in full force. They caravan to the creek that runs through the timber at the back of our farm to fish, or hunt for treasures, or play in the water, or if it is winter, slide around on the frozen water. Arrows are launched into targets. Air soft wars break out. They run across the giant round bales. Creativity abounds in painting, play dough, drawing, coloring, building, and constructing. It is noisy. There are fights. There is laughter and surprise. There is SO. MUCH. WRESTLING.
You know what there isn’t? There is no asking for screen time.
It is not an option and it is not a battle during a fast. Over the years of technology fasts at our house, I have come to recognize this fact to be so refreshing, that we now fast every Sunday. The fast gets broken around 6 pm, especially if America’s Funniest Home Videos has a new episode airing. It gives us all space to think. A fast gives us time to connect. It gives us time to truly rest, not relaxing while browsing the internet or playing a game, truly rest.
I started a technology fast for our family last Tuesday. The kids have less than a week now before Winter Break, where long days at home will inevitably lead to extra screen time. It was time for a break. I had sensed the need building for a few weeks, but all five of the kids have been working together to build a world on minecraft. It is the one game that I really don’t mind them playing, especially when they are all building, mining, creating together. But screens were being carried around, stuck to their hands and turning on without thought to what else needed to be done. Shows were being binged watched in the evenings, pressing bed times to their limits.
In full disclosure, this fast has been a bit different for us. Jason and I have allowed for the fast to be paused this week when we had a babysitter helping us and when we chose to have a family movie night. For us, fasting isn’t about legalism, it is about regaining balance and perspective.
What was the kids’ response to the announcement of the fast? Relief.
I could physically observe them exhaling the tension that screens generate. They all want to know how long the fast will go on, but they don’t fight it. I rejoice in this and the reprieve from the battle of managing the screens. And I gear up for all the wrestling. Because that, my friends, is what boys do to show their love.