Have you tried switching off?

LINDA MCSWEENY
Last updated 14:49 01/09/2014
Detox
CLEAR YOUR MIND: Sometimes pulling the plug and relaxing with a good old book is exactly what the doctor ordered.

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I crave quiet time because my urban life is loud. I'm surrounded by sirens, building sites, traffic. Inside, my family is overly attached to technology. I realise life is naturally full of noise, but recently I decided to turn it down a notch - as, quite frankly, it feels as though I'm going mad with decibel overload.

Knowing the importance of quiet time for good mental health, I convinced my husband and two daughters that we needed device-free quiet time for 30 minutes each day for a month. And we'd do it in support of the Yoga Foundation's annual Quiet Quest fundraiser, which helps deliver yoga sessions to veterans and carers to alleviate hardship. (The Quest doesn't actually start until October, but we wanted to get in early!)

Our aim was to give each other time to just be. No smartphones, tablets, computers, phones, radio or television. What we got was a dramatic shift in our family dynamic: the big switch-off has helped us communicate more clearly.

We eased our way in by starting the quest while taking a break from work and during part of the school holidays. Here is our half-time diary.

Day one: After seven minutes of crying from a young member of the family, Fireman Sam is blaring on TV while our two children relax (quietly) on the lounge. We have chosen the wrong day to start. After a day of car travel halfway across the state, including two hours in Sydney traffic, our kids just crave food, TV, bath and bed.

Day two: A nice family dinner with conversation. No silence but valuable questions, including probing as to why we can't have one device running. Our preschooler loudly concocts an unsuccessful plan with her sibling to enable iPad use in their bedroom later.

Day three: Tired family. Quiet dinner.

Day four: We temporarily abandon the quest, due to grumpiness and a desire for music. Surprisingly, my tech-attached husband tries to get us back on track but is outvoted 3-1.

Day five: Gentle conversation over dinner, followed by a bath for the girls. Easy. Loud bath, though.

Day six: A visit to Grandma for dinner. Lots of calm, tech-free conversation.

Day seven: Productive family dinner, discussing how much money we will donate to people in need. We are now switching off devices beyond the 30 minutes, day and night. Glad to see one daughter opting to read a book instead of pleading for screen time, while her sister stretches.

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Day eight: Getting into the groove. The iPad has been out of charge for days. Out of sight and mind.

Day nine: Using chairs and sheets, our girls have built a cubby house in the living room with not a glance at the TV. Previously, they almost knew the ABC3 program guide off by heart.

Day 10: Our kids are now in the habit of playing together without technology. It's not totally silent, but they're certainly calmer. Husband getting his tech fill by daytime study at university.

Day 11: The TV switches itself off during a power surge and we don't reboot it. I am tempted to pack it away.

Day 12: We've been relaxed, tech-free and quieter for an hour. The TV has been off more than on and the girls have snuggled in bed with us in the mornings.

Day 13: Accidental false start by switching on radio news while preparing dinner. Promptly reminded by the girls, "It's quiet time!" Start again, sit down to dinner before the home phone rings and we pick up. Start again. Lovely family dinner and quiet time rolls on.

Day 14: My husband suggests we engage permanently in nightly quiet time. We canvass it with the girls, and get agreement!

- Daily Life

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