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6 Tips for a Successful Family Digital Detox

Last Updated: July 3, 2019

John Fort
John Fort

John Fort, MST, is the Director of Training for Be Broken Ministries where he oversees online training on Pure Life Academy. He is also a co-founder and board member of the Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit. John is a regular speaker on parenting and is the author of Father-Son Accountability: Integrity Through Relationship.

The whole idea of a family “Digital Detox” sounds good, but in my experience, it takes a little planning and work to pull off so that the family wants to do it again.

In the first place, just because I as a parent may feel excited about the opportunity to spend real, quality time with my wife and kids does not mean my kids envision hanging out with dad as more fun than video games. A certain amount of groans from the audience can be expected, particularly after kids pass age nine or so.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great idea and worthy investment of energy, it just means we can’t be lazy about it and expect it to turn out rosy. From what our family learned, here are six tips for a successful family digital detox.

No surprises.

Don’t suddenly announce that tonight we are turning everything off and having family time. This will not feel fair to the kids. My wife, in fact, would not be thrilled if I made a sudden announcement like this. They already had plans!

Instead, take time to prepare in advance together as a family. Decide when you will try a digital detox. As the day approaches, remind everyone now and then of the upcoming digital detox. Otherwise they will forget and when the day arrives they are looking forward to Netflix or something and will be disappointed that they can’t do that.

Plan ahead.

Don’t wait until the day to decide what to do. That is asking for disappointment. The last thing we want is for our kids to experience a disappointing digital detox due to our poor planning.

We need to have specific plans. Deciding ahead of time you will play a game without deciding which one or bothering to look to see what you have first is no good.

Imagine opening the game drawer or closet as the family gathers around to play only to find all you have is a chess set missing three pieces and the game you really like is missing as you suddenly remember you lent it to your sister last month. Be specific and make sure you have everything you need before the day.

Start planning a week or so in advance, brainstorming on what you might try. Get your kids’ input, although you can use parental wisdom to veto things you know won’t go well.

In time, you may not need to plan ahead quite so much. You will learn what really works with your family. You will likely want to mix things up to add variety and keep kids with different interests happy, but in the beginning we have found it best to let the kids know ahead of time exactly what will be happening.

Or let someone else do most of the planning for you! Covenant Eyes released Digital Detox: 7 Days to Reconnect with Your Kids. Each morning you’ll receive an email that contains a healthy technology use tip, a tech-free activity for your family to do, and fun conversation starters. Start rediscovering the joy of family time today. 

Sign up for Digital Detox

Explain why you’re doing it, when kids are old enough to understand.

It is important for our kids growing up in the internet generation to understand that no amount of digital communication or play replaces face-to-face relationships.

We have pointed out to our kids that when people communicate online, we all have a strong tendency to project who we want people to think we are, not who we really are or how we really feel. Online communication and game playing is really not much more than people sending out false projections of themselves.

We taught our kids that we need time to come back to the real world and interact with real people. We need to practice sharing real feelings and thoughts. As a result of taking time off from the digital world, our children have both commented on how they see a lot of others their age who are not good at communicating in real life.

Find a way to explain why this is important. We may have to do this multiple times as our children grow, each time giving more examples of why this important as they are able to understand more.

Find things kids like to do, not what you want to do.

I remember taking our clan out on a nature hike one day when my kids were in late grade school. It was a trip into an old growth forest and I expected my children to be wide-eyed with anticipation of what they might find. Instead my son whined all the way there in the car and drug his feet in the dirt, lagging way behind, on the actual hike. If I recall, he cried rather pathetically most of the time, “Why can’t we stop? This is so faaaar.” Even his discovery of a rare salamander on the side of the path did not cheer him up.

Lesson to dad, just because I found hiking a grand adventure at age 10 does not mean my 10-year-old son will feel the same way. A digital detox doesn’t help if it feels like torture to a kid.

That isn’t to say we can’t ask our kids to try new things. That is an expectation my wife and I set for them, to curb some of the initial whining. But, I did not take my son on a hike again for a couple of years, at least not under the guise of family time. Oddly, he suddenly liked hiking a lot when he reached 13. I still don’t know why.

Be relational, not instructional.

Relax and let your hair down a little during these times. If the only time your family unplugs is when you’re going to teach them something, this may not feel like fun. It also sends a message we don’t want them to believe; that face-to-face relationships are boring.

For example, having a family Bible study is a wonderful thing, but perhaps not something kids see as a fair trade for giving up their devices for an evening. This can end up feeling more like “school with Mom and Dad” than a relational family time. Not to say we shouldn’t do this, but if we have a family Bible study, we might want to add another family time that is less instructional feeling a different night.

There was a period of time, several months but less than a year, where once a week our family turned everything off after dinner and did a Bible study. The kids were pretty young, so at first they were game. We scanned through the Old Testament and made a huge family tree on a long piece of butcher paper. Each week we would get the paper out, open the Bible to where we left off and let someone scan through to find the next characters in the family tree. The kids would add them to the long piece of paper and if it was someone with a story we’d ask the kids what they remembered.

I was quite proud of myself for the creative idea, and in my mind it was very interactive. My kids did not agree. Even though this was light on “study” and more on sharing thoughts, our kids began to whine more and more when our family Bible study night arrived. Again, the idea was not bad, but it did not turn out feeling particularly relational in nature to our kids.

Teaching kids is great and necessary, but I would not recommend using a night of teaching, no matter how creative, for a digital detox. Maybe that’s just me.

Don’t pick things that frustrate kids, even if they want to do them.

We have tried board games in our family, but we learned to be selective. A lot of traditional games supposedly made for kids are actually horribly frustrating for young kids to play. The game Sorry comes to mind. Kids get excited when they see they are almost about to win, only to be crushed when a sibling or parent knocks them back to square one. The box may say for ages 6 and up, but that is only true if you don’t mind child meltdowns and tantrums during the game. A lot of the old games I grew up with are like this.

A young child may understand the rules well enough to play, but that does not mean their emotions can handle how ruthless some games are.

This doesn’t have to be true anymore! With the onslaught of more emotion-friendly games developed in the last decade or so, there are more great options than ever. Games where no one is “out” long before the game is over, leaving some poor kid sniffling in the corner as the rest of the family plays on. Even games where everyone is on the same team and you all win or loose together.

When our kids got older they liked the game Catan, which is more interactive than a lot of the old games. We use the Star Trek Edition, however, because we are nerds. Forbidden Island and Flashpoint are cooperative games where everyone is on the same team. And there are some great classics that are still good for kids, such as Bananagrams, UNO, Yahtzee, and so on. Perhaps some readers could comment below with games their kids really like. You could list the ages you think the game is best for.

I’m not suggesting that you only do games during a digital detox. But, whatever you decide to do, be sure that even your youngest will not become frustrated trying to succeed at what you choose.

I hope this doesn’t sound like too much work. It really is worth it. The relationships we have with our now young adult children are far better because we did things like this throughout their childhood. Be firm that it needs to happen but hold loosely what it has to look like. It’s about the relationship, nothing else.

Digital Detox: 7 Days to Reconnect with Your Kids

Covenant Eyes offers an engaging email challenge, Digital Detox: 7 Days to Reconnect with Your Kids. It’s not a strict no-technology fast. Rather, it’s an opportunity to disconnect from technology during strategic times and in strategic ways so you can reconnect with the ones you love most.

When you sign up for Digital Detox: 7 Days to Reconnect with Your Kids, you’ll receive an email every morning that contains a tip or fact for smart and healthy technology use, a technology-free activity, and a fun conversation starter.

And detoxes are usually easier and more fun when done in community, so consider inviting another family to participate with you.

Rediscover the joy of family time and start your family’s Digital Detox today.

Sign up for Digital Detox


  • Comments on: 6 Tips for a Successful Family Digital Detox
    1. Josh Higgins

      Thank you, thank you, thank you, for emphasizing the importance of planning and preparing… in advance! Most have heard, “We do not plan to fail, we fail to plan.” And yet, well, here we are.
      I also recently heard, “If we do not invest our time in preparing for (insert goal here), then we will spend our time repairing.”
      Opportunity, the goal to acheive, plus Intentional, i.e. planning and preparing, will always result in Impact, the desired change in behavior and character.

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