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By Gary Crossing

This summer we took our boys (ages five and eight) on a three-week retreat to the Suffolk coast. 

As day one unfolded, it slowly dawned on them that there was no phone signal – unless you stood on one leg in the shower block – Wi-Fi was a thing of the past, and the telly was solar-powered, so screen time was limited to an hour of CBBC a day. Yep, we were going totally tech cold turkey. Well almost. Ah, the look on their poor, innocent, bewildered faces.

It was great for us. Nothing to worry about except getting to the beach – which was 50 yards away – reading a book and planning our next meal. The boys on the other hand, were less than impressed. Indeed, for the first few days they were decidedly panic-stricken.

Not even downloading some programmes on the BBC iKids app before we left could sate their appetite for screen time. And, seeing as how that pesky sun only comes out during the day, there was no solar charging iPads at night.

Adapting admirably to their desperate situation, the boys used all their guile and cunning. They started asking if we could go to the pub for lunch (and dinner) because there was Wi-Fi there. Which suited us. But the sight of them chasing around a beer garden trying to find Pokémon Go characters (there are very few in Suffolk, it would appear) was a thing of profound sadness.

It was the amusement arcade on the pier that offered the greatest succour in these times of digital drought. For an hour a week the boys were allowed to fire torpedoes at passing ships, hammer away at air hockey, ride virtual motorbikes and drop endless grubby coppers down the shiny shoots of disappointment.

There, amid the nauseating neon and the 70s nightclub carpet, breathing in chip fumes and listening to Funky Town by Lipps Inc on repeat, the boys collected chain after chain of tickets vomited out by the games. At the end, they handed the tickets in at the counter to collect their incredibly tacky prize. For the record, 700 tickets will get you a handsome Darth Vader wall clock.

The boys loved every single glamourous, noisy second of the arcade. Just like I did when I was their age. Scanning the floor for dropped change became a past time in itself. And, they learnt a profound life lesson – that ‘claw’ games will never pick up that fluffy stuffed toy and drop it into your hand.

Anyway, after a week of ‘almost’ complete digital deprivation, the boys’ behaviour changed when they were ‘cough’ left to their own non-devices devices.

When we weren’t on the beach, they started drawing more pictures. They read books, played boules, or built ambitious constructions with Lego. Indeed, on the rare occasions that their iPads were charged, they made mini epics with the Lego Movie Maker app. They enjoyed going crabbing with their mates. We talked a lot more as a family. Especially at meal times. There was more humour, and hilarious in-jokes. (Trust me, they really were.)

A recent study in Australia claimed that children who play online video games tend to do better in academic science, maths and reading tests. I’m sure there’s some truth in that. And I’m definitely not against my boys playing games. But our holiday away from dependence on devices made us think that perhaps, we had let the boys play too much, too often. The plan now is to try and redress the balance.


Want to know more? Read our guide for parents on digital detoxing here.

Image: CC0 Public Domain