Experts agree that digital entertainment screens dominate the lives of far too many kids, displacing other activities that are integral to childhood.
Research has linked many of the health and social problems facing children today to the hours they spend looking at screens.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) works for the rights of children to grow up – and the freedom for parents to raise them – without being undermined by commercial interests. A week-long turnoff allows sufficient time for children to explore a wide range of screen-free activities and to develop more productive and rewarding habits, and helps them to realise that having fun without looking at a screen is possible and may actually be more fun and beneficial.
“We advocate for policies that promote commercial-free time and space for kids,” Sara Adelman, Screen Time Project manager, told The Newsroom. “Screen-Free Week is an extension of this work. Mobile technology, including cell phones featuring child-targeted apps, mp3 players, iPads, and other hand-held devices, mean that children are immersed in screens nearly every waking moment. Screen-Free Week offers children and families the opportunity to take a break from digital entertainment for seven days and explore their own ideas and creations, enjoy each other, and take pleasure in the world around them.”
Regardless of whether children are consuming good or bad screen media – such as violence and pornography, or educational activities to benefit their learning – excessive screen time is associated with learning, attention, and social problems, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. It also exposes kids to harmful advertising. Psychologists have found screen media can be habit-forming – the more time young children spend with screens, the greater difficulty they have turning screens off when they get older.
A US Government health site recommends that US children over the age of two should spend one to two hours a day on screens, and children under this age should have no screen time at all. Children aged eight to 18 have been found to spend, in total, 44.5 hours a week on their screens, and a further 23 per cent of youths said they are addicted to video games. In a survey conducted by Medibank, 1505 Australians estimated they spend nine hours a day looking at technology screens.
“My child spends seven hours a day on screens,” Victorian mother of two, Vicky Steidal, told The Newsroom. “She has used computers since year six, and [spent] two hours a day at most. Now it has increased by a lot, and I try to get her motivated but she won’t have any of it.”
Screen-Free Week is a fun and innovative opportunity to reduce dependence on digital entertainment. Instead of screen media dictating kids’ lives, it helps them reclaim leisure time for their own pursuits. Screen-Free Week is a chance for children and adults to rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen. It also allows families the time and space to take stock of their media habits. Many use Screen-Free Week as a springboard to develop a healthier relationship with technology all year round.
“It’s really about refraining from using digital entertainment in order to enjoy the rest of the world,” Ms Adelman said. “We’re absolutely not suggesting that people stop using their computers for work or school. Screens are so important to modern life that sorting out what’s entertainment and what’s work or communication can be difficult. In fact, figuring out the role of screens in our lives is an important component of Screen-Free Week. But if talking, texting, or checking email is interfering with family time [including meals], consider making a change.”
Screen-Free Week is a chance for people to get back to living life like it was before phones and tablets were invented and to take joy in the simple things, like walking your dog around town or hopping up on your bike for 20 minutes. – Reported and photographed by Sarah Batt