The true roots of Screen-Free Week began back in 1994—a time when there were significantly fewer screens. Initiated by the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, the original movement was intended to encourage families to shut off the television and partake in other activities for a week. Screen-Free Week has proven to be a far more difficult challenge for today’s youth. Giving up their myriad devices cold-turkey is considerably more difficult for today’s teens and children that have grown up with technology literally at their fingertips. The average American child gets a cellphone at the age of 6…
While those opposed to the idea of Screen-Free Week argue that it polarizes traditional notions of creativity and new technology, others embrace the idea of ditching screen-time for a few days. I will reserve judgment, as I have no horse in this race—I am simply an educator who is encouraged to prepare my students for the digital world. I will, however, provide a few recent observations that may fall more on the side of those in support of Screen-Free Week.
While visiting the National Zoo this Mother’s Day, I was in awe of the number of families with small children out to enjoy a sunny afternoon at the zoo. What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than to get outdoors, enjoy DC’s spring weather, and observe some wildlife? With such a vast park, there is plenty to see and do at the National Zoo—even several interactive exhibits. However, as zoo staff were encouraging passersby to duck into the zebra exhibit to meet with zebras up close and personal, two disinterested elementary-aged children remained parked on a nearby bench, zoned-in on their iPads.
I have no qualms about children engaging with technology—quite the contrary, in fact. Advancements in technology have greatly benefitted teachers and students in the educational realm. We’ve come a long way since chalkboards and typewriters, thankfully! However, I do believe that, as Screen-Free Week tries to encourage, screens should be monitored and limited at the parent’s discretion. For instance, Screen-Free Week does not have to be looked at as a loss of technology for seven days. Instead, perceive it as an opportunity for face-to-face interactions and creative activities for seven days.
Instead of entertaining the kids at dinner with individual iPads, bring some coloring books to the table. Ask your children if they could rename the crayon colors, what would they call them? You could even cover the table with butcher paper and have the family play word games or write silly stories. A week without the iPad at the table is not going to hurt anyone—it could actually inspire some creativity or spark interesting conversations!
If going on a family outing to a place such as the zoo, aquarium, museum, etc., instead of bringing the selfie-stick, pack a few disposable cameras and snap away! Yes, the photos taken on a smartphone are immediately viewable, but seeing what you’ve captured on a disposable camera after the film develops is always an entertaining surprise.
While we all love our TV shows, giving up the screens for a week allows the family to get creative. When TV is not an option, we have to think outside of the box to entertain ourselves. Take an evening to play a board game, create a neighborhood scavenger hunt, or play charades—your favorite shows will be saved on the DVR after your screen-free week is up.
For Screen-Free Week, encourage your teens to set an auto-reply on their email. This way, any unread email will bounce a reply to the sender letting them know that they will get a reply in a few days. In place of email, snapchat, and text messages, practice the lost art of letter writing. Send handwritten mail to family members, neighbors, or close friends. Postcards are always a welcomed means of communication, too!
Sure, technology makes our lives significantly more convenient. But Screen-Free Week is all about reminding us that we are capable of living without these luxuries. It will be difficult, as we are part of a society that is largely dependent on our devices throughout the day. Giving up our screens for a few days may help to show us just how “wired” we are to our wireless devices.