Originally called TV-Turnoff Week, Screen-Free Week (May 2 to 8) is an opportunity to raise awareness about excessive dependence on entertainment screen media: TV, video games, computers, and hand-held devices. According to Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the official home of Screen-Free Week:
- School-age children spend more time with screen media—television, video games, computers, and hand-held devices—than in any other activity but sleeping.
- Screen media use is at an all-time high among preschoolers—according to Nielsen, young children spend, on average, more than 32 hours a week watching just television.
- A recent survey found that the amount of time children ages 0-8 spend using mobile devices tripled in two years.
- 64% of children ages 12 to 24 months watch TV and videos for an average of just over two hours a day—even though the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for children under two.
For children, too much time in front of a screen has been shown to contribute to:
- poor school performance
- childhood obesity
- attention problems
Screen-Free Week is endorsed by dozens of organizations, including: the American Academy of Pediatrics; the National WIC Association, KaBOOM!, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Alliance for Childhood, and the American Public Health Association. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
Screens, including televisions, computers, tablets, and cellphones, are inescapable in today’s connected world. But when it comes to children, from toddlers to teens, screen time should be limited. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents develop a family media plan to manage electronic media to minimize potential health risks, and to maximize its benefits. Screen-Free Week is the perfect time for families to connect with one another in various ways that don’t involve media. This helps contribute to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
SCREEN FREE EVENTS
Since 1996, thousands of parents, teachers, PTA members, librarians, scout leaders, and clergy have organized Screen-Free Week celebrations in their communities. Here are just a few of this year’s festivities:
- The Community Library in Battle Ground, WA is hosting events all week long including yoga for kids and teens, arts and crafts, board games, building with LEGOs, and a scavenger hunt.
- Let’s Move Missoula (MT), Missoula Parks and Recreation, and the Missoula City-County Health Department are collaborating for an “UnPlug and Play” Screen-Free Week. The week begins with a free kick-off event at McCormick Park, which includes face painting, games, sports, nature activities, a climbing wall, and so much more! During the week more than 30 community partners will host family-friendly interactive events.
- Villa Villekulla Toys in Fernandina, FL is offering access to exclusive discounts and community events just for those who have pledged to go Screen-Free! There will be a kick-off party and they’ll end the week with a family picnic.
- In and around Lafayette, CO, kids and teens in grades Kindergarten through 12 who commit to turn off their screens will receive a free week-long pass to the Bob Burger Recreation Center. All participants who return their completed Activity Log to the Recreation Center will be awarded a participation certificate and an age-appropriate book compliments of the Lafayette Public Library.
- The Brighton Memorial Library in Rochester, NY will host a board game and card game swap. Participants can drop off any gently used and complete family board game, card game, and/or puzzle any day in April at the Children’s Center.
SCREEN FREE ACTIVITIES
Screen-Free Week offers many ideas and resources for getting started or digging deeper:
- The Family Guide to a Great Screen-Free Week
- Resources for teachers
- Screen-free play and activities
- Organizer’s Kit
- 101 Screen-Free Activities
- Local Screen-Free Week events
INSTEAD OF SCREEN TIME
According to Dr. Susan Linn, Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood:
More screen time means less time for hands-on play, reading, exploring nature, and dreaming – activities crucial to a healthy childhood.
In addition, it is through screens that children are exposed to harmful marketing. It’s not always easy to wean our children away from the seductive screen, but it’s worth the effort. Here are some things to do instead.
Stories. Even older children and adults like being read to. Choose a book that the whole family will enjoy and read a chapter aloud every night after dinner. Our children love to hear stories from when we were growing up. Tell stories involving your children as characters. Ongoing stories are fun, but they don’t have to have a message. Take turns doing the telling. For inspiration, ask your children for a list of places, magical beings, magical objects, people and creatures. Make up stories from their lists.
Read and Write Poetry with the family. It’s fun to read poems aloud or to recite them from memory. I loved The Best Loved Poems of the American People when I was growing up and enjoyed privately reciting “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Haikus can be a fun way to learn to write poetry.
Music. Don’t be intimidated by music; it belongs in every children’s life. Start with lullabies. Play music often. Go to a concert during Screen-Free Week. Dance together. Make up a DIY dance contest. Sing songs together. The Golden Song Book is great for preschoolers; Rise Up Singing is a group singing songbook. Get some simple musical instruments to have around the house and drum or rattle along with the songs.
Nurture Your Artist. Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a lot of time painting, drawing, creating collages, or making clay sculptures? These would be great activities for Screen-Free Week. Make a trip to a local museum or art gallery during this week.
Play Board Games. I love the intimacy that board games create and the lessons they teach. Heck, they’re just fun. Here are some suggested games.
Have a Messy Party. Make mud pies. Have a mud bath. Play in a sand box. Make some homemade playdough or silly putty. Make your own bubbles. Get dirty.
Get Outside. Kick some balls around. Go for a walk. Go for a hike. Create a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt. Have a picnic. Watch the night sky. Go on a bug safari. Make a fort in the back yard.
Play Restaurant. Plan a menu. Cook it together. Change into “fancy” clothes before dinner. Eat by candlelight on a tablecloth and use cloth napkins.
For more information see the chapter, “Wholesome Family Entertainment” in my book Natural Family Living
For a related article, see “Going Screen- Free.”
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011 and founded Mothering.com in 1995. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three.