Screen-Free Week Inspires Young People To Turn Off Their Entertainment Devices And Connect With Life
May 5, 2014

Screen-Free Week Inspires Young People To Turn Off Their Entertainment Devices And Connect With Life

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

In 1994, two men – Henry Labalme and Matt Pawa – came up with an idea to form a national organization aimed at drawing America’s youth away from the television. Initially they developed TV-Turnoff, a time for kids to turn off their TVs and find something more constructive to do with their time.

However, at the time, most people didn’t view television as a problem. In fact, many people saw TV as a great babysitter and reducing viewing time was a ridiculous prospect. But Labalme and Pawa continued their drive to turn off TVs for the younger generation.

With more than 55 organizations, educational institutions and businesses now endorsing the cause, the campaign has grown into something much larger than just finding ways to reduce television time. With the growing Internet and mobile digital age, children and teens everywhere are constantly connected to their screens.

Called Screen-Free Week (SFW) since 1996 – which this year begins May 5 and lasts through the 11th – the campaign organizers use this time to inspire young people to turn off their televisions, computers, video games, tablets and other mobile devices used for entertainment and use their time to “read, play, think, create, get physically active, and spend more time with friends and family.”

Social media, reality television and the relentless need to stay virtually connected to the world have consumed our lives and have taken away opportunities to create those invaluable family memories that our parents and grandparents love to reminisce about. We should all take the time to turn off the television, put away the cell phones and take a walk, visit a local cultural center or just have a good ole family dinner with the ones that we love,” Angele’ Doyne, Program Associate for the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI), said in a statement.

Screens have become so important to modern life that it is difficult to sort out what is entertainment and what is work or communication. SFW is not looking to disconnect young people from their screens when needed for work or school – “but if screens of any kind are interfering with your family time (including meals), you may want to think carefully about how you’re using them.”

“Screens play an ever-increasing role in our daily lives, and this is why we need to be deliberate in taking time to disconnect and go outside to play. Screen-Free Week is an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself, your family, and your friends to find screen-free ways to play. Make time to explore your neighborhood or visit a local park, have friends over for a board game and leave the TV off. Make plans to have regular screen-free play days. Embrace the challenge and you will be rewarded with a richer experience,” Carly Summers, Executive Director of the US Play Coalition, said in a statement.


According to data on the SFW website, school-age children spend more time with screen media – TV, video games, computers, and mobile devices – than in any other activity except sleeping. Among preschoolers, screen media is at an all-time high. Young children spend on average more than 32 hours per week watching just television, according to Nielsen. A recent survey has found that the amount of time children up to eight years of age spend using their mobile devices has tripled in just the past two years. Despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics discouraging screen time for children under the age of two, it has been found that 64 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 24 months watch TV and videos an average of two hours per day.

Screen time is also habit forming and can lead to attention problems, poor school performance, disrupted sleeping habits, and childhood obesity.

“The tendency to use television and video games as a ‘babysitter’ is having significant negative consequences on our children – increased medical conditions related to childhood obesity and inactivity and decreased social skills are on that list. Embracing Screen-Free Week is an outstanding way to refocus on strengthening family relationships, building interpersonal skills and developing healthy lifestyles. Ensure your children have great childhood memories to share with their children by unplugging during Scree-Free Week. Visit the zoo, read to each other, plan/shop/prepare/eat a nutritious meal as a family, jump rope, share stories about your family history while taking a walk together…the list is endless,” said Sandra York, Executive Director for the Michigan PTA.

“We know what we need to do: we need to get moving. Insufficient physical activity, combined with a poor diet, is the second leading cause of preventable death. I encourage young and old alike to celebrate Screen-Free Week by turning off the television and taking a walk, playing with the kids, or simply getting outside. You’ll be glad you did,” added Edward Ehlinger, MD, MSPH, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, Minnesota Department of Health.


Many leading health, education and childcare organizations actively support this year’s SFW to help draw kids’ attention away from their screens. Some of these endorsers include the National Head Start Association, the National WIC Association, KaBOOM!, the US Play Coalition, the Association of Children’s Museums, the National Black Child Development Institute, and the American Public Health Association.

“Such wide-ranging support for Screen-Free Week reflects the growing national consensus that kids spend too much time with television, video games, apps, and computers,” said Dr. Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the official home of Screen-Free Week. “More screen time means less time for hands-on play, reading, exploring nature, and dreaming -- activities crucial to a healthy, happy childhood."

Millions of children and their families have participated in SFW since 1996. Each year, thousands of parents, teachers, PTA members, librarians, scoutmasters, and clergy organize SFW events in their communities to help inspire parents and children to turn off their screens. Visit SFW’s ‘Find an Event’ page to find events that are planned near you.

“Regardless of whether children are consuming “good” or “bad” programming, it’s clear that screen media dominates the lives of far too many kids, displacing all sorts of other activities that are integral to childhood,” wrote SFW organizers. “Screen-Free Week is a fun and innovative opportunity to reduce our dependence on entertainment screen media, including television, video games, computers, and hand-held devices. It’s a chance for children—and adults—to rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen.”

“What our kids see on a screen is someone else’s creativity. It is not their own. Our children are growing up into a world where they will more than ever need to be innovative, adaptable and above all, creative. Having the courage to question the new normal of screen saturation in our kids’ lives and allowing our homes to be low or no screen environments will give them the hugest advantage in their lives to come – because it gives them the space and time to transform passive consuming into active creativity,” Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, said in a statement.

Perhaps our young ones say it best:

“We are losing focus on what kids should really be doing to develop themselves physically, socially and academically… technology can be a wonderful thing, however, we kids, the future of America, need to be careful that we allow technology to enhance our lives but not take over them,” said Cornwall, NY eighth-grader Luke Roth.