As I sit in front of my iPad writing this article I feel a little hypocritical. After all, I spend all day in front of a screen to document the visits I have with my patients at the office and since email is the primary way patients contact us both during the day and after hours, screen time is inevitable for me.
Starting today, April 28th, though, Screen-Free week begins and is a great reminder of how insidious technology is in our lives. We did a screen-free day one Saturday and it was amazing to discover how many times we each found ourselves having to redirect our activities to avoid screen time. In my house we even use the iPad for recipes and so when it came time for dinner and Conall went to review the recipe he was going to use for the meal, he had to search for the cookbook rather than turn on the iPad. We listened to the Tigers game on the radio and played basketball outside. We fertilized the lawn and went for a walk.
By Sunday, though, the novelty had worn off and we all spent the day a little irritable and annoyed with each other. We ended up at the library and cooked again later in the afternoon.
I recount this not to bore you but rather to show you how simple it sounds, but how challenging it can be to turn off all the screens in your life. You’re left with yourself, your kids, and your imagination. Yikes. I think our imaginations have gone into hibernation and a lack of the ease and constancy of media makes its absence more acutely felt. We’re going to continue on with the week of screen-free time at home and in previous years, we’ve all found that by the end of the week we don’t really even miss it anymore. We’ve found other ways to occupy ourselves after a few days of discomfort and boredom and yet when the week is done, we inevitably turn media back on and (I hope) spend a bit more time disconnected than we had before the week off began.
Excessive media exposure via TV, computer, iPad, DVD, or phone has been associated with ADHD, poor literacy skills, aggressive behavior, obesity, and depression in children. Just this week more info about the prevalence of TVs being on in the background was released. The average child’s day includes four hours of background noise TV.
Not all media is bad, of course, but limiting it makes sense. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that children younger than 2 have no media exposure, children ages 2 to 5 have no more than an hour a day, and older children have limits too to encourage interpersonal social skills as well as more physically active play.
I encourage families to do the Screen-Free week at home, parents and kids alike. It may not be completely realistic to do without it entirely but perhaps set time limits and spend less time mindlessly surfing or pinning things to Pinterest or “liking” things on Facebook and instead read a book with your kids, cook a new recipe, take a long walk, or — my personal favorite — take a nap!