Parenting like it's 1986: Couple bans modern tech to inspire kids

When TODAY Moms first reached out to Blair McMillan, we spent nearly an hour dialing, then dialing again, only to hear a busy signal on the other end of the phone.

“Sorry about that,” McMillan said with a laugh, “we don’t have call waiting. Or an answering machine for that matter!”

Parents Blair McMillan and Morgan Patey hold their sons Trey, far left, and Denton, far right. The family went so far as to change their hair and wardrobe to resemble the 1980s.

What? No call waiting? No answering machine? What is it, 1986?


Stay-at-home dad McMillan, 26, is what you might call a pioneer, although instead of trailblazing ahead, McMillan has decided to take a step back.

McMillan and his girlfriend, Morgan Patey, 27, live in Guelph, Ontario, with their two sons Trey, 5 and Denton, 2. In April, McMillan had a frustrating conversation with his eldest son.

“It was a beautiful day and I asked Trey if he wanted to go outside,” shares McMillan. “Trey didn’t even look up from the tablet he was playing on and told me he didn’t want to go. It got me thinking that when Morgan and I were kids, this kind of technology didn’t exist and we were always playing outside.”

His idea sparked from there: For one year, the family would live like it was 1986, the year that Blair and Morgan were born.

“We packed up our computers, tablets, cell phones, flat screen TVs and so on and put them into storage,” says McMillan. “Instead we bought an old wooden TV, a radio, a rotary phone and a Nintendo!”

The transition was surprisingly easy, for the boys at least. They were young enough to adapt without putting up too much of a fight. But Blair and Morgan had a more difficult time acclimating to their new house rules, which prohibit cell phones, computers, and any post-1986 technology.

“It took Morgan a little longer to get used to the idea,” admits McMillan, “but as it got closer and closer to the day we were going to shut everything down and I started signing out of my email and social media accounts, I started feeling like, ‘Holy cow, what have I done?’”

Instead, shutting their family off from the normal barrage of technology opened up new doors, both literally and figuratively. After dinner, the family has to find an activity to occupy their time. They adopted a dog so they could go on walks. They play outside or go to the splash park.

“As parents, we communicate more and have become way more hands on,” says McMillan, who is a self-proclaimed chatterbox now. “Instead of a tablet teaching my child what the color ‘orange’ is, we have to go outside and show the boys what the color looks like ourselves. What’s funny is that the simplest things are now the things that entertain Trey the most. He loves to go outside and pull weeds with me or turn over rocks and find bugs.”

McMillan says the boys have become closer as a result of the experiment, although they do tend to fight more because they’re playing together more frequently and have the normal sibling quarrels over sharing.

“The road trip we recently took to Minneapolis was the worst,” says McMillan. “It would have been a lot easier to hand them a DVD player when they were both screaming about sharing stickers in the back seat of the car.”

The family has also taken a more antiquated approach to communicating with the “outside world,” as they call it. When they first tried to set up their land line, it took weeks for the phone company to actually get in touch with them.

“The phone company would have to come over in person time and time again because they couldn’t reach us on our cell phones or email,” remembers McMillan. “We were a nuisance to everyone, but now they just laugh about it. When we finally plugged in the rotary phone and heard the dial tone it was like when you finally get a signal on your Wi-Fi, we were all so happy.”

The family wanted to spend a full year living like it’s 1986 so they could experience all four seasons without modern day technology. The real challenge, says McMillan, will be the cold winter, where their standard outdoor activities will be limited.

“My cousin just dropped off a bunch of Schwarzenegger VHS tapes for us. I’m saving those for the winter when we have nothing else to do.”

The family says this lifestyle is sustainable now because the children aren’t using computers or any other technology at school. So will they continue living like it’s 1986 after April of next year?

“Probably not,” McMillan said with a laugh.