If you’re looking for a way to get your family to unplug and get out there and play, then think about taking part in Screen-Free Week. This national event is now in its ninth year and is coming up in just a few weeks. From April 29th through May 5th, families across the country will turn off their devices and take some time to connect in real ways – playing games, cooking together, going for hikes, and watching sunsets, not screens.
Why should your family take a break from screen-time?
In HelloJoey’s “Screens Without Screams” kit, we explore the latest science about how screens affect a child’s body, brain, and well-being. Of course, research about screens is still ongoing and technology’s changing quickly, so there are no definitive answers or hard and fast rules. However, research has shown that screens can cause actual physical changes in your child’s brain and body that can affect their health and their behavior.
When it comes to your kid’s health, studies have shown:
Screens can negatively impact sleep – and the blue light emitted by many screens negatively affects how much melatonin our brains make.
Screen-time is related to child obesity. A 2002 study from Pediatrics found that kids ages one to four were 6% more likely to be overweight for every hour of TV they watched each day – and if there was a TV in their bedroom, those odds jumped an additional 31% for every hour watched.
In terms of your child’s behavior:
Screens may change the brain in ways that cause tantrums – although not all tantrums are connected to screens.
Over 400 studies have linked violent media to higher rates of aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and angry feelings.
Can a week without screens really help my child?
According to psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley, taking a break from screens can deliver noticeable results fairly quickly. She works with families on what she calls “Electronic Screen Syndrome,” or over-stimulation from electronics, and is a proponent of a “screen detox” for kids in which parents take away all games for about a month. She says if that feels overwhelming, it’s okay to try it for a few days at first. Screen-Free Week could be a great opportunity to test it for your family.
Dr. Dunckley says you can expect to notice a difference in your child fairly quickly. “You can really turn things around fast. The first few days, the child stops asking for the devices, and they start playing more imaginatively and go outside more. They're more physical and start sleeping better, and a lot of parents find they get their child back, or that they’re interested in things again that they’d lost interest in. It's really quite dramatic.”
Some people consider Dr. Dunckley’s detox to be extreme, but there is literally no downside and there could be great benefits. Even if screens aren’t a big issue for your family, participating in Screen-Free Week will give you more time with your child to deepen your bond.
How do I know if my family needs a break from screens?
If your family is like most, you can probably benefit from a break from screens. The statistics about screen use are alarming, and they don’t just apply to adults. This is the average daily screen use by age according to Common Sense Media:
Ages 2 to 4 – 2 hours, 39 minutes
Ages 5 to 8 – 2 hours, 56 minutes
Tweens and teens – 6 hours (not including schoolwork)
Adults – 9 hours, 22 minute (work and personal use)
Whether you’re worried about your family screen usage or you just want to take a break before it becomes a problem, participating in Screen-Free Week may be able to help.
Additionally, Dr. Dunckley shares some red flags that kids around the ages of four and five might benefit from a screen detox.:
severe tantrums (including physical outbursts)
lack of interest in anything but screens/games
explosive or overly-energized behavior
frequent crying or getting frustrated easily
exhaustion or low energy – even with regular sleep
difficulty learning or focusing
anxiety, obsession, or worry
“These are signs that a child’s nervous system is over stimulated and indications that a child might benefit from a fast.”
How to maximize the benefits of a week without screens
Screen-Free Week or a screen detox isn’t just about disconnecting from electronics – it’s about connecting with each other! “The most important part is that the parent spends time with the child,” emphasizes Dr. Dunckley. “We have reward pathways for social reasons, to keep the mother close to the child. Things that are bonding activate those pathways and keep the mom and the child together. Those are what are being hijacked by screens. To protect against that, the parent has to spend time with the child and has to really be present.”
When it comes to exactly what to do – the answer is simple: anything your family loves! During those hours when your family would normally plop down in front of the television or turn on the gaming console, plan something else you all can do together. Of course, you could schedule a family game night or movie night, but you can also get creative with ideas like these:
Turn Taco Tuesday into a real fiesta by making your own paper mache pinata, playing festive music, and whipping up kid friendly umbrella drinks.
Decorate your living room like Hogwarts, don your Hufflepuff scarves, and read your favorite Harry Potter story out loud during a family reading night.
Gather some props and let your family act out a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, each pretending to be a different character and taking turns guiding the plot.
Sit down and write a family letter – with pen and paper – to far-away relatives (or even nearby friends).
Have the kids help you create a scavenger hunt for a sibling or another caregiver that leads everyone to your favorite pizza parlor or fast food restaurant.
As you can see, the options for having fun without screens are endless. Whether your try one of these suggestions or you come up with something your own family will love, it’ll probably be an occasion to remember long after Screen-Free Week has passed.
Screen-Free Week or a screen detox doesn’t just have benefits for your kids; it can help you and help improve your relationship with your kids, too. You already know your kid cares more about what you do than what you say. If you find that your phone or tablet or game console is getting between the two of you (no matter who’s holding it), consider making some changes. Embrace Screen-Free Week, put down your phone, and pay attention to your child instead.
Want to learn more about “Screens Without Screams?” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10-minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.