According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, American preschoolers spend an average of 32 hours a week in front of a TV, computer screen and/or hand-held electronic device. For older children, it is even more. This pattern has been linked to attention problems, poor school performance and obesity.
During Screen-Free Week, which starts today, families are encouraged to make some adjustments to their routine to reduce time spent in front of a screen. Ideally, this will serve as a catalyst for long-term changes. For one thing, it could free up a significant amount of time.
So, what should you do if your family cuts back on your media intake? Consider the following suggestions for quality “unplugged” time.
Get moving. Enjoy the outdoors by taking a walk, kicking a ball around, learning a new sport, gardening, playing tag, biking or simply hanging out at the playground.
Reconnect face to face. Invite grandparents, cousins, or friends over and cook a special meal. Then, clean up together. Many hands make light work.
Volunteer. Pick an organization that your family would like to support and find out how you can get involved. Serving in your community offers rich dividends. Often, it provides an opportunity to interact with people of different ages, races, classes, languages, and religions.
Read aloud. Even children who know how to read for themselves enjoy hearing a good story read aloud. Choose an age-appropriate book to enjoy as a family. If it’s long, try reading a chapter each evening after dinner.
Make music. I lived for a time in Mongolia, where the entertainment was provided by the guests. A common dinner party activity was to give everyone a chance to sing a solo or duet. You could include the option of playing an instrument. If this isn’t something your family has done before, it might feel awkward at first, but give it a chance. You might be surprised by how making music can lift the spirit and bring people together.
Tell stories. Give each person an opportunity to tell a story of their choosing. Last year my sister held a pioneer party and one of the activities was storytelling. Many of us told stories from our own lives. One person told a folk tale. Some were rather short. All were entertaining. And we learned new things about each other.
Create something. Pick out a project that everyone can participate in, collect the needed supplies and then get busy crafting.
Rediscover your library. With more than just books, libraries offer hours of mind-enriching activity. (Yes, even if you bypass the computers.) Find out whether your library offers any special programs – some libraries offer a wonderful array of book talks, workshops and/or special events. Or simply find a cozy spot to read something new. (Near the magazine racks is often a good bet.)
Play games. Card games, board games, word games – whatever your like. Pick an existing game or make up your own. With so many choices, it shouldn’t be hard to find a game you can enjoy with family or friends or by yourself.
Whether it is one of these ideas or something else your family enjoys, hopefully, you’ll find an activity or two that you’ll want to continue because they improve your family’s quality of life.
In our home, I’d like to make everyday “turn off the TV” day. We typically limit our boy’s screen time to less than a half an hour per day, and I try to keep our toddler away from it completely. But once they’re past two years of age, my husband firmly believes “no exposure” is not the answer. I have to admit it is better to teach them to make careful choices about what to view. Still, this week we’re aiming for less screen time than usual. That translates into more time for creative play.
What, if anything, are you going to differently this week?