Going Screen Free for One Week

At St. Louis Kids Magazine, we’ve frequently touched on the topic of screen time. How much TV is too much? Is the computer stunting my child’s development? Will Dora and the Backyardigans turn my kid into a drooling zombie with a couch cushion permanently adhered to her backside?

Starting today, you can perform your own scientific research using your offspring as guinea pigs by joining other families for Screen-Free Week, now in its sixteenth year . Educators and organizations are encouraging parents and their kids to say good-bye to cell phones, TV and video games for one week and instead, take time to reconnect with one another.

A long-time supporter of Screen-Free Week has been the Missouri Parent Teacher Association. Noted Dani Riley, health, wellness and safety chair for the organization, preschoolers spend more than four and half hours a day in front of a screen while older kids spend more than seven hours.

“With school age children, studies have shown that too much TV, video games, and computer can lead to aggression and violent behavior, obesity, and shorter attention spans,” explained Riley via email. 

“Also in young children messages that are shown on a screen can influence the way that their brains perceive what is real and not real. Small children don't understand that everything they see may not be real. Like most things, TV, video games and computer time, in moderation, can be good. Depending on the educational value of what is being watched.”

For guilt-ridden parents like me who on occasion turn to Wizards of Waverly Place for its mad babysitting skills, the research on too much screen time is a bit frightening. According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood:

  • Kids who watch two or more hours of screen time are prone to psychological issues, such as hyperactivity and poor peer interaction.
  • In a survey of kids ages eight to 18, “one in four said they felt ‘addicted’ to video games.”
  • An average preschooler watches nearly 25,000 television commercials.

Although we do limit TV viewing in our house, we’re going to try the full-on turn-off during Screen-Free Week. We’ve done it in the past – but only as a way to ground a sassy preschooler with an occasional smart mouth. This time, I know we’ll have a challenge on our hands since MJ will feel punished if she can’t watch her beloved The Fresh Beat Band (bonus - I get a week off from Twist and Kiki’s saccharin perkiness! Woo hoo!).

To make the week easier on the family, I asked Riley for some ideas on unique activities that will show my kids just how fun the world is when you’re not looking at it through a screen. Her suggestions:

  • “Go camping in your backyard. Put up a tent, let the kids play in it and sleep there at night, right in your own backyard. Don’t forget the roasted hot dogs and s’mores!
  • Start a family garden. This is a whole summer activity. Plant a rainbow of flowers or teach your child the importance of growing their own fruits and vegetables. Hard work will reap rewards!
  • Build something with your child. There are building kits at local hardware stores and some even have weekend classes for children to build things for free!
  • Take your camera and go on a nature hike with your children. At a nature center, zoo or even around your neighborhood. Take pictures of interesting finds and make a photo album for your child to go back through.
  • Take your child on a scavenger hunt. Make a game out of it by including neighborhood children. Make teams and send them out to find objects on a list. First one done wins! Get the older children to help the younger ones.”

But most important, according to Riley, is to “get active, get outside and make memories with your children.”

I’m looking forward to my Screen-Free Week with my kids. The weather is beautiful, there are games to be played and brand new books to be read. On the other hand, a part of me is thankful knowing there’s going to be a Real Housewives and Modern Family on my DVR awaiting my return on April 25th.

By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge has written for STL Parent for more than 12 years. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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