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My family won't be taking the Screen-Free Pledge this week. In 2013, screens are a part of life, and I think it's for the better. Why would I somewhat arbitrarily cut my kids off from some of the most awesome forms of information gathering, learning, and entertainment? Being mindful of screens and their influence on a day-to-day basis -- which to me is the point of this exercise -- is far more useful than taking a week off once a year. So the screens will stay on this week in my home. (But they won't in our TV editor's house.) Here's why.
1. It's not an either-or situation.
The suggested screen-free activities resonate with me. Outdoor play? Family time? Reading (paper) books? These are all wonderful, crucial things my kids do. An hour here and there with a screen won't take away from that. My kids aren't couch potatoes, and they're not digital zombies. They're reading maniacs. They're super creative. They play outside every day. And as for family time, screens aren't any more of an obstacle to engagement than some of the screen-free activities my kids do -- I regularly have to remind my 9-year-old daughter to put her (paper) book away during dinner. Screens can detract from engagement, but they don't have to.
2. Screens can make stuff better.
Many of the activities suggested as alternatives to screens can actually be enhanced by screens -- board games, for example. During Screen-Free Week, we'll play Scrabble the board game and Scrabble the app. We'll do the same for Rush Hour and Rory's Story Cubes. Then we'll compare and contrast and talk about how the screen hindered or enhanced the experience. And board games are just the tip of the iceberg. I watched in amazement as my 7-year-old son's engagement in a recent project shot up when I encouraged him to use the iPad for part of it.
3. One of my kids is a gamer.
My son self-identifies as a gamer. Gaming involves screens. I don't want him to think there's something inherently wrong with screens, because there's not. He knows he can earn screen time by bringing home good reports from school -- it's a great motivator. And most of the games and apps he plays aren't passive entertainment. There's a lot of learning, doing, and creating -- all with screens.
4. Quality time together can include screens.
Games like New Super Mario Bros. U are a family affair. My son, especially, enjoys when we all play together. And as a parent, it warms my heart to see my kids working cooperatively to solve puzzles in games like Scribblenauts Unlimited -- just as it does when they work together on non-screen activities.
5. The important thing is screen-time awareness.
I agree with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood on just about every issue they tackle. And they make a point of saying it "isn't just about snubbing screens for seven days; it's a springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round." But I don't think that turning off screens for a week is helpful for that. My kids' school promotes "screen-time awareness" this week, encouraging families to be aware of screen time, ask questions, and engage in a dialogue. Shutting off screens entirely shuts off some of these opportunities. So, this week, we'll keep the screens on.