This week, April 30 – May 6, 2012, is National Screen-Free Week. This annual event is a program of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and is designed to encourage parents, children, teachers, schools and communities across the country to turn off all forms of screen-based media, including television, video games, computers, cell phones, etc., and instead spend time with family and friends and participating in other activities, such as reading, daydreaming, exploring nature, playing outside, and more.
Formerly known as TV-Turnoff Week, the CCFC has expanded it to include all screen-based media. It is the organization’s goal that Screen-Free Week will be a “springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round.”
The ever-increasing availability of technology and electronic devices has dramatically increased the amount of time kids (and adults) spend in front of a screen and has drastically reduced the time spent on non-media based activities. The CCFC estimates the amount of time preschoolers spend in front of a screen is 32 hours a week, and even more time is spent by older children and teens. The amount of time spent with screen-based media has reduced time spent outdoors, time spent with family and friends, time spent engaged in sports and other forms of fitness and has contributed to the childhood obesity problem. Too much screen time can also lead to poor school performance, sleep problems, and behavioral issues in some children and teens.
I’ve lost count of how many parents have talked with me about how their children’s behavior changes after playing video games or watching television, especially if those games or shows involved any violence or aggressiveness at all. I’ve seen firsthand how video games affected one of my nephews and would turn him from a sweet, caring boy to an aggressive, defiant child. After the problem continued to worsen, my sister made the drastic decision to no longer allow any video games. At first my nephew whined and begged to play, but as time went on he found other ways to occupy his time and entertain himself and his behavior at home and even at school greatly improved. At the age of 10, even he realizes the negative effect video games can have on him if he spends too much time with them. Of course, every child is different and not all are adversely affected by media and technology, but even if they are not, over-use and over-stimulation can still be a problem.
Screen-based media can also interfere with with kids’ ability for creative, imaginative play. Turning off the screens for a week can help them tune into their imaginations, especially if you encourage them to play with toys that promote creativity. Introduce your kids to some of your favorite childhood pastimes and participate with them. Instead of screen-based electronic games, play board games or go outside and play hide and seek, freeze tag, or a fun sport. Go for a bike ride or a walk around your local park. There are so many ways to spend time together and have fun without any technology at all, your family may even decide to turn off the screens more often!
Certainly technology has improved our ability to do many things, including educate our children, but we need to be aware of the harm that over-use can cause and use screen-time wisely. Taking a break from the abundance of screens in our world can be a healthy way to detox and reconnect with our family and friends face to face.
For more information about Screen-Free Week, visit CommercialFreeChildhood.org.