My family won't be taking the Screen-Free Pledge this week. In 2013, screens are a part of life, and I think it's for the better. Why would I somewhat arbitrarily cut my kids off from some of the most awesome forms of information gathering, learning, and entertainment? Being mindful of screens and their influence on a day-to-day basis -- which to me is the point of this exercise -- is far more useful than taking a week off once a year. So the screens will stay on this week in my home. (But they won't in our TV editor's house.) Here's why.
1. It's not an either-or situation.
The suggested screen-free activities resonate with me. Outdoor play? Family time? Reading (paper) books? These are all wonderful, crucial things my kids do. An hour here and there with a screen won't take away from that. My kids aren't couch potatoes, and they're not digital zombies. They're reading maniacs. They're super creative. They play outside every day. And as for family time, screens aren't any more of an obstacle to engagement than some of the screen-free activities my kids do -- I regularly have to remind my 9-year-old daughter to put her (paper) book away during dinner. Screens can detract from engagement, but they don't have to.
2. Screens can make stuff better.
Many of the activities suggested as alternatives to screens can actually be enhanced by screens -- board games, for example. During Screen-Free Week, we'll play Scrabble the board game and Scrabble the app. We'll do the same for Rush Hour and Rory's Story Cubes. Then we'll compare and contrast and talk about how the screen hindered or enhanced the experience. And board games are just the tip of the iceberg. I watched in amazement as my 7-year-old son's engagement in a recent project shot up when I encouraged him to use the iPad for part of it.
3. One of my kids is a gamer.
My son self-identifies as a gamer. Gaming involves screens. I don't want him to think there's something inherently wrong with screens, because there's not. He knows he can earn screen time by bringing home good reports from school -- it's a great motivator. And most of the games and apps he plays aren't passive entertainment. There's a lot of learning, doing, and creating -- all with screens.
4. Quality time together can include screens.
Games like New Super Mario Bros. U are a family affair. My son, especially, enjoys when we all play together. And as a parent, it warms my heart to see my kids working cooperatively to solve puzzles in games like Scribblenauts Unlimited -- just as it does when they work together on non-screen activities.
5. The important thing is screen-time awareness.
I agree with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood on just about every issue they tackle. And they make a point of saying it "isn't just about snubbing screens for seven days; it's a springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round." But I don't think that turning off screens for a week is helpful for that. My kids' school promotes "screen-time awareness" this week, encouraging families to be aware of screen time, ask questions, and engage in a dialogue. Shutting off screens entirely shuts off some of these opportunities. So, this week, we'll keep the screens on.
Is your family participating in Screen-Free Week? Why or why not? And please follow me on Twitter.
Screen-Free Week is an event where kids and families pledge to turn off their TV (and other electronic media devices such as computers, electronic game systems, DVD and CD players, iPods/iPads, and cell phones) for the week and explore new activities that promote social, physical, academic and creative development.
National Screen-Free Week is usually held in April or May, but you can conduct your own Screen-Free Week at any time. Many of us have never gone a week without watching TV! By taking a week-long media break, we may discover that life is more fun when we do more and watch less. Challenge families and school staff to participate, too!
- Meet with your school health team to create a plan to celebrate Screen-Free Week at your school.
- Get school staff on board including your principal, teachers and other staff that engage regularly with parents. Provide teaches with ways they can incentivize students to participate. For example, give extra credit to students who keep a journal about their week without TV and other electronic devices.
- Parents and families are critical to the success of Screen-Free Week – Let them know it's happening through PTA/PTO meetings, flyers, all-calls, etc. Encourage families to:
- Make it a game! Place all screen-free ideas in a jar. Whenever the family would typically watch a screen, pull an idea out of the jar.
- Try new hobbies! Replace screen time with something more active. Join a club, discover a new talent, or sign up for physical activity class at your local community center.
- Declare "screen-free zones". Limit screen time to certain rooms in your house. Try to pick places where everyone is together, like the family room. Also, keep screens out of bedrooms.
- Ask local businesses (theatres, skating rinks, miniature golf courses, bowling alleys, etc.) to offer discounts to students and their families who show a signed a Screen-Free Pledge Card.
- Work with teachers to pass out pledge cards, physical activity logs and other resources to help students set goals and track activities during the week.
- During Screen-Free Week, share tips and ideas each day during morning announcements.
- When the week is over, congratulate students by passing out certificates of achievement. Perhaps the class with the highest participation earns an extra recess!
- With your school health team, discuss how to make screen free week ideas and activities continue throughout the rest of the year.
- Hang posters in classrooms, hallways, the office and the cafeteria to promote Screen-Free Week
- Work with teachers to do nutrition education lessons that focus on daily screen time limits
- Engage student leaders to promote Screen-Free Week and serve as healthy role models for other students
Engaging volunteers has a wide range of benefits. Volunteers can offer new perspectives and make a lasting impact and contribution through their knowledge base and support. Volunteers can provide an extra helping hand or a needed, valuable skill set. Who in your network has skills or interests that complement your needs? Brainstorm ways to engage individuals, organizations or businesses as volunteers to help.
Students with physical limitations are potentially more prone to excessive screen time since being active is sometimes a greater challenge. Think of other options above that don’t involve a screen and determine which are available that will accommodate the skills and abilities of the person that is disabled and include them in the screen-free challenge. The same tips for limiting screen time and making screen time more active apply to students with disabilities. They may have restorative exercises that have been prescribes for them which they can do during TV time. There are also shows that facilitate physical activity with the benefit of an exercise leader that may help increase mobility for those with disabilities.