Imagine a week when children give their undivided attention to the natural world around them. With the exception of school and homework, they spend that week outdoors – hiking, biking, reading, exploring, gardening, collecting, stargazing, dreaming.
With not a smartphone in sight, they are intently focused on their surroundings – shifting clouds, myriad bird songs, velvety moss, scented peonies, foraged edible plants.
This magical week is real and rapidly approaching. It’s called Screen-Free Week and it takes place this year from April 30-May 6. During this annual, international event, children and families are encouraged to unplug from entertainment screens and instead enjoy a host of fun screen-free activities, including reading, playing, exercising, crafting – and, of course, gardening, exploring nature, and enjoying outdoor recreation.
There are many reasons to carve out a screen-free week during the school year. A 2016 study by the nonprofit Common Sense Media found that teens consume an average of nearly nine hours of entertainment media daily, while tweens average nearly six hours – and those averages exclude screen time for school and homework. A similar study of children aged eight and younger found an average of two and a quarter hours of entertainment screen use daily.
What impact does this excessive time with screens have on children? The evidence is mounting that it’s taking a toll on their physical, emotional, and social health. The American Academy of Pediatrics cites increased risks of obesity, sleep disturbances, depression, internet gaming disorder, reduced school performance, earlier initiation into a host of risky behaviors, and the potential for exposure to sex offenders and cyberbullying. Other research has found that teens’ smartphone and social media use are correlated with increased rates of unhappiness and depression. And that when increased screen time displaces human interaction, children’s ability to read social cues is impaired.
These alarm bells would be less compelling if it were easy for children to disconnect. However, former tech industry insiders are now warning of the ways that tech companies have made unplugging nearly impossible. And children aren’t the only ones struggling to disconnect. In a Common Sense Media study of parents of teens and tweens, screen media use by parents for non-work purposes averaged almost eight hours per day.
Screen-Free Week is a small yet effective antidote to much of this stress, giving growing minds and bodies a much-needed respite from the seductive pull of digital screens and the constant barrage of harmful marketing messages. When families take the week off together, they find that the screen break promotes such deep family connection that the experience informs more thoughtful screen choices for the remainder of the year.
While the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood hosts Screen-Free Week, CCFC is only a clearinghouse of information and ideas.
Screen-Free Week is a dynamic grassroots movement where the real heroes are the thousands of parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians, activists, and community leaders who prepare a week’s worth of screen-free events, from bicycle rodeos to book readings to picnics to crafts activities and much more.
They are the ones who infuse Screen-Free Week with heart and spirit. Knowing children as well as they do, they commit to this undertaking year after year because they recognize that Screen-Free Week is more engaging and festive when it is celebrated with others.
Thanks to all of this organizing effort, there is yet another unique benefit of Screen-Free Week: it gives children the time and opportunity to explore activities that are new to them. During Screen-Free Week, children discover a love of such activities as cooking, knitting, reading Harry Potter books, and volunteering. Our goal for 2018 is to firmly cement gardening, nature exploration, and outdoor recreation to this growing list of new interests.
We invite naturalists and park rangers, master gardeners and beekeepers, parks and nature centers to help spread the news that spending time in nature is the perfect screen-free activity. While there may not be sufficient time to organize formal Screen-Free Week activities this year, we know that nature centers and local, state, and national parks routinely schedule screen-free nature and outdoor activities, so don’t hesitate to reach out to fans and followers to suggest they join your already scheduled activities during Screen-Free Week. Or just encourage members of your social networks to head outdoors, visit a local park or nature center, enjoy a family hike or bike ride, or try their hand at gardening during Screen-Free Week. With your support, we can help families, schools, and communities discover that the outdoors and Screen-Free Week truly are a natural fit.
Photo Credits: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood & C&NN
Additional Reading & Resources
Commentaries here and elsewhere on the C&NN website are offered
to inform readers and to stimulate new thinking and debate. C&NN does not officially
endorse every statement, report or product mentioned in every commentary.