May 5, 2014

Screen Free Week Impossible – Try Screen Awareness

Corinn Cross, M.D.

National Screen Free Week is upon us again.  It begins today, Monday May 5th, and concludes Sunday May 11th.

All families are encouraged to observe Screen Free Week but as our culture becomes increasingly intertwined with screens, how to limit screen time and increase awareness has become immensely more challenging.

Originally, Screen Free week was TV Turn-off week. Easy enough, 1 week, no TV.  But now screens are everywhere and needed for everything, emails, social networking. They are used in school for school work and communicating with parents and often needed for homework.  It seems almost impossible to go an entire day, never mind a week without using a screen.

So, what is a common sense parent to do?

Understand the reasoning behind Screen Free week. Although some screen time is at this point necessary for most teens and adults, there are ways that we can scale back unnecessary screen time and open up more time for other activities:  reading, socializing in person with friends and family, going outside, exercising.

I think a more appropriate name for the upcoming week would be Screen Awareness Week. In this way, the task seems much more manageable. Use Screen Free week to take an inventory of how much time you and your family are spending on screens and try instituting plans on how to monitor that time and dedicate screen free periods throughout the day.

To take advantage of Screen Free Week and make it successful in your home, start by making a plan and having a goal. Discuss with your family the expectations and limits for the week.

Simple suggestions for families include:
  • Designate a drop area for cell phones when you walk in the door. Cell phones should go here during screen free times and at night to charge.  Cell phones should not be left in a child or teens room overnight to charge, but should be either in a public room or the parent’s bedroom.
  • Set a time or times throughout the day when you will not use screens, laptops or smartphones. Ideally for Screen Free week this would be all the time that a child is home but realistically most families may find that a shorter period of time is both do-able and more importantly sustainable. Start with 2 or 3 hours once you get home from school - unless it is for homework, and of course no screens or phones during dinner
  • Disconnect from unnecessary digital interactions. Take a week vacation from social networking sites and surfing the web. Use this time to discuss privacy settings and appropriate on-line behavior with your children and teens.
  • Check in with your kids about cyber-bullying and what to do if they experience it or more likely, witness it.  
  • Turn the TV off for 1 week and when you go back to TV remember no screen time for children under 2 years of age and only 2 hours of TV for older kids and teens.

Use Screen Free Week as an opportunity to reassess your family’s media use. At the end of the week, discuss with your family how the week went. Was it easier or harder than expected?  What changes do you want to continue with as a family? Did any of the changes you made have a positive impact? You may find that you would like to have a TV free night once a week or an hour or two every evening when all screens are turned off.  Most families find that when they can disconnect -- even a little, they can reconnect with each other a whole lot.

For more information about Screen Free Week, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics parent’s website