I have my laptop open and I am furiously trying to send just one more email when I feel someone beside me. It’s Sophia*, my 8 year-old, her curly hair pulled into a messy bun and her eyes expectant. “It’s time.”
I quickly glance down at the clock on my computer screen. 6:56 p.m. “Yep, okay, I just have four more minutes and I’ll be ready.” She frowns, “The clock on the microwave says it’s already time.” I frantically point at the bottom of my screen, “Look, right there, I have four more minutes.” Then I lose a minute, 6:57 p.m. She makes a face that looks exactly like the side-eye emoji. “I’ll be back in two minutes.” I nod and hit send on my email and then shut my laptop, put away my phone, and yell out for my tween, Sunshine*, to do the same.
“Alright everyone, it’s “SOFT time.”
SOFT Time is our code word for “Screens Off For Tonight,” began as a strategy to reclaim our time for all the devices and screens in our home. As more and more research emerges indicating that screen time could impact a child’s brain development, initial research shows that increased screen time leads to a thinning of the cortex — the outer layer of neural tissue responsible for processing information from each of the five senses. Common Sense Media participated in the second annual Truth About Tech conference in Washington, D.C.
“Common Sense is leading the conversation around the present—and future—of kids’ digital well-being. By engaging policymakers, educators, technologists, and child health experts, we can work together to identify and back solutions for technology that support its youngest and most vulnerable users: kids.” And they have great recommendations for tech companies and for policymakers.
At the same time, new research questions the idea that screen time has a negative impact on adolescents. “Analyzing three different datasets, which include improved measurements of screen time, we found little clear-cut evidence that screen time decreases adolescent well-being, even if the use of digital technology occurs directly before bedtime,” said Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the OII and coauthor on the study as quoted in Science Daily.
Once again parents have to shuffle through the data and consider what is the best way forward? I grew up when parents pushed you out the door, into the sunshine, shouting “Have fun!” as they shut the door behind you. More than just “having fun” I had full on adventures. I felt the blessed freedom of exploring rainforests in Panama, I rode bikes beside the levy in Baton Rogue, I have found wonder in German markets in Frankfurt, Germany and sat on our apartment roof in Korea having snacks with my brother.
I’m an Army brat and freedom is deeply ingrained in my soul. I want my children to have those experiences, and when I see them staring vacantly into computer screens I don’t see freedom, I see chains.
And for my family we need to do something different, that’s when Screens Off For Tonight was born, we affectionately call it SOFT Time.
It began with simple changes. We began taking a nightly walk around the neighborhood to slow down and talk about our day. The girls would talk through problems at school or sticky situations with classmates as we walked through the neighborhood. I learned about some of their struggles with math and their victories in social studies.
Soon we were planning our SOFT time every evening, sometimes we cooked together, playing our favorite songs for one another while we have dinner. Other nights we work out and then pull our yoga mats onto the floor so that we can listen to a guided meditation together. We give each other facials, we talk about books we are reading. One night we set up a “Sip and Paint” make smoothies and painted portraits of our dog. We realized we need more SOFT time in our lives and randomly we invite each other to “music festivals” in the living room or cross fit “Boot Camp” routines in the basement.
We also used this time to have deep conversations about issues facing our nation. Sophia wondered how I felt about immigration and a potential avocado shortage, I wondered how she felt about human rights and borders of the heart. Our talks made me realize how important it is right now to intentionally spend time thinking, playing, creating, and unwinding together. I am a true Gemini-momma, dragging my kids to festivals across two continents and bringing them home covered in bubbles, glow in the dark paint, neon colors and tree branches. But SOFT has deepened our time in the internal spaces, it has allowed us to explore heart spaces and to built the interconnective tissue of our relationships.
Our SOFT time has become so special that the girls have opted for “Screens Off For Today” when we plan outdoor adventures into the mountains of Colorado. Using our time to adventure and explore our beautiful trails and alpine lakes. We aren’t hard on each other, I may need to use a device to find our way to our trail, we might take photos, but we are prioritizing our time together rather than our time online.
Of course, there are nights when I still get busy and it’s Sophia* who holds me accountable. Sometimes we don’t start SOFT until 7 p.m. and other nights we are ready to go by 5 p.m. Sunshine* has rediscovered her love of reading because of SOFT time, she reads a book a week, lounging in her bed, without the pressure to respond to every image on social media.
SOFT is an invitation to sacred space, a place where digital demands have no voice. The girls play more, sleep better, enjoy more experiences that are critical to joy and happiness. We have used it to reconnect to meaningful moments and to experience the expansive and luxurious nature of the present.
I encourage you to try SOFT time in your home! It’s a gift we all need and deserve.
Follow our Soft Time Adventures on Instagram @mixmomma.