I thought I’d change it up a bit this week with a little public service announcement about a growing concern in the world of parenting. It all begins with screens. We’re surrounded by them. I’m frequently reminded of a scene from Minority Report, see below, and a few ominous passages from Fahrenheit 451 about a character who sleeps with “seashells” in her ears (iPod headphones anyone?) and is a virtual slave to entertainment.
The reason I bring all of this up is because April 19 kicks off National TV Turnoff Week, more recently known as Digital Detox Week.
Do you know how much time your children spend in front of a screen each day? The New York Times did a study last year and found that the average person (this includes adults) spends 8.5 hours a day looking at a screen. (Read the article.) That’s essentially a third of our lives! The American Academy of Pediatrics says that a child’s use of TV, movies, or video and computer games should be no more than two hours a day.
National TV Turnoff Week was launched in 1994 by the Center for Screen Time Awareness to promote social consciousness about digital consumption. Research has shown that children who spend too much time in front of the TV are more prone to develop obesity, irregular sleep patterns, behavioral problems and learning issues in school, so this is definitely something that folks are paying attention to.
The point of Digital Detox Week is to go cold-turkey on all screen time. (Obviously for the adults in the family, screens are essential to the working day so there’s a 9-5 exemption, but once you leave work everything should be shut off.) If your family participates, you’ll be shocked at how often you find yourself reaching for the remote, the Blackberry, or the Google button. You’ll probably also be surprised at how much extra time you have as a family.
So what do you do instead? The key to limiting children’s screen time during Digital Detox Week and beyond is replacing it with plenty of stimulating activities. Here are a few suggestions to help you on your way:
1. Remove TVs from the bedrooms: All television viewing should be done in common areas where parents can properly monitor what children are actually watching. Stock bedrooms with alternative entertainment—books, puzzles, and construction-based toys that children can interact with when they play.
2. Set a schedule: As a family, decide how much television is acceptable and during which hours it should be viewed. Include designated times for other family activities in your schedule, such as game night, reading aloud, and outdoor sports.
3. Focus on creating: Avoid placing children in front of the TV when you need a few moments to yourself. Instead, set them up with a do-it-yourself project that requires ongoing work. This way, when they come home from school or feel bored, they will be eager to pick up where they left off.
I think it would be great if more and more families “celebrated” Digital Detox Week. The most important part is spreading awareness. We won’t be able to change our habits over night, but if we’re conscious about the amount of time we’re “plugged in” we’ll be more likely to alter our lifestyle to be sure we’re raising smart, healthy kids.
Until next week,