Screen-Free Week? Striving for a Whole Childhood Unplugged…


Sunday marked the last day of the national “Screen-Free Week” campaign.  I wonder how many families embraced this challenge?  For our Waldorf-inspired family, “screen-free” is a way of life, and this national observance passed without notice.  Still, the need for such a holiday leaves me thoughtful.

How did we get to such a place where the children in our nation need a community to take up a pledge to make a break from the TV, computers, or video games?  How is screen time adding up to impact a future generation’s health and development? For those of us adults who grew up free to watch television as we pleased, is the world of screens really that different for kids today? Let’s explore these concepts to discover points for consideration.

What is Screen-Free Week?  Why is it Needed?

We all know that excessive screen time is bad for children.  Time with screens is linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, and attention problems.  And it’s primarily through screens that children are exposed to harmful marketing.  Screen-Free Week is a fun and innovative way to improve children’s wellbeing by reducing dependence on television, video games, computers, and handheld devices for entertainment.   That’s why, for one week each year, thousands of schools and communities dare to shun screens and celebrate life.  Screen-Free Week is supported by leading public health and educational organizations, including the American Medical Association, the National Education Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. (via Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood)

When we take a moment to measure the impact of  ”screen time” on children, the facts can truly be unsettling.  The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood says, “Reducing screen time is even more important than it was in 1994, when the original TV-Turnoff week was launched.  Children spend more time than ever with screens: an astonishing average of 32 hours a week for preschoolers and more than 50 hours for older children.”  These facts reveal a new national “norm” (trend, behavior, or value) around the generally accepted practice of pairing children and screens as a major daily pastime.

Read more facts about screen time and children here:

Is Today’s Screen World Different?

I often hear parents say, “I grew up with TV and I’m fine.”  I am one of the legions offering up my own stories of catching daily episodes of “He-Man” with my brothers or watching “Cheers” over my dad’s shoulder.

Still, its interesting to take pause and consider how the world of screen technology has changed since our more youthful days.  We can recall TV’s with 13 channels, although we often take for granted our new ability to peruse more than 200 cable stations.  Many of us never saw our parents with cell phones, although almost every parent I know now carries one.   Some of us grew up in schools without computers, and most of us never had computers in our homes.  Today, most families have at least one computer if not more.

However, consider our children who are born into this place where:

The doctor’s office has a TV

The dentist offers you time on a video game consule while you wait for a cleaning

The “penny” rides at the shopping mall now cost $1 and show you a movie

The gas pump seeks to entertain, while kids serve as a captive audience in car seats

A trip to the bank includes catching the latest financial news on the big screen

Parents’ cell phones quickly convert to children’s hand held games

Buzz Light Year and the modern cast of cartoon characters take a free ride on kids’ shirts, underware, socks, pants, and shoes

We spoon feed kids dinner with Elmo (or other character) plastic plates, utensils and cups…

The nurse wants to know if your child wants a “Diego, Dora, or Thomas” sticker at the end of your office visit…

The grocery shopping fun cart features a video screen and movie…

Kids rarely fly on a plane or travel long distance in a car without a DVD player…

Rain on a school day means staying indoors to watch movies rather than gearing up in a coat and boots…

Grounded means kids get a screen taken away…

Rewards means kids get more screen time…

And what else have you observed about society and screens?  What picture would you want others to ponder?

What Happens When We Unplug?

“Turning off screens frees up hours each day to engage in constructive, fun, and commercial-free activities such as reading, playing outside, cooking, building, creating art, pretending, exploring nature, and daydreaming,” says the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

With all of this in mind – plus a little consideration for lowering our household budget – Scott and I cancelled our cell phone service and switched off the TV when Bryles came into our lives.

Amazingly, this simple act of unplugging a few electronics revolutionized the way we live.

We spend hours each day – no matter the weather – outside. Often we join up with neighbors and friends as we run, jump, skip, ride bikes and play.

We use our hands and create things.   My  four year old is growing up learning to use wool cards, wield a hammer, use a hand saw, and sew.  Everyone in my family knows the names of the edible plants in our garden, which we regularly harvest together and add to our food.  Hours every day are spent cooking together in the kitchen, where my 4 year old serves as a true sous chef.  He helps chop, mix, and taste the meals we prepare from scratch.  We gather around the table as a full family no less than twice a day to enjoy the fruits of our labors.  Our dinner conversations are full of concept exploration and rich in language.  We then wind down our day with classic folktales and stories centering around seasons, animals, and families – things my son relates to  in his daily life on a practical level.

Unplugging allows us to connect deeply to each other, nature, our bodies, our creativity, our neighborhood, our food and more.

“What do you do when you just want to check out and get away as a parent?  What if you really need to get something done?” you might ask. The TV could be turned on, immediately suck Bryles in, and allow us to tune out.  (It works almost as well as an that “on or off switch” we often speculate someone forgot to put on children.)  Sometimes, we’re burned out, sick, or otherwise tempted.  However, give our boy some play dough, a tub of soapy water, or his basket of trains and he’ll happily entertain himself long enough for us to rest.  Imagination and self reliance seem to be skills our boy is strengthening as he grows up “unplugged”.

What have you noticed about our world of screens?  How are you handling screen time in your family?  What do you when your electronics are switched off?  How does it feel? Please share your experiences, ideas, and suggestions here to help continue this important discussion.

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2 Responses

  1. Karla

    Posted: May 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm |

    Oh, my! This is something I struggle with constantly in my home. Before I met my hubby I didn’t have a TV for eight years. I had better things to do. ;) My hubby is a techie and loves his TV and usually has a book in front of his face as well.
    When we got pregnant I lobbied to keep our kids TV-free and we have come to a compromise. The kids will get a movie when I’m not home. It works out to them getting approximated a movie a week. And eases the “drama” of my not being home. But even with thier restricted movie viewing, my son rides his bike in the back yard while exclaiming, “to infinity and beyond!” and my daughter wants tinkerbell to come to our house.
    After a movie night, they are so filled with the images, they talk about it periodically throuout the following day.
    I would love to see the TV chucked out a window, but that is not an option for my husband.

    I do make a point to avoid grocery stores, malls and gas stations that have TV’s going when I’m out with my kids. If they have a screen screaming at me, they won’t get my business.


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