Just Say No to Screen-Free Week

Screen Free Week

When my daughter was one-year-old, I worked as a developer for Microsoft Research. While there, I watched a fantastic talk called “Of Mice and Children: Unraveling the Effects of a Technologized Infancy.” In it, we learned both how mice and how children respond in the face of too much noise. The biggest takeaway for me: the content matters, not the screen itself. Watch the full presentation below to get all the details.

Yet, here we are, in the middle of “Screen-Free Week,” the wonderful week where we can get back to real life instead of looking at a screen. Let’s take a look at my four-year-old daughter’s screen time, and the effects of removing it for one week, against Screen-Free Week’s claims, shall we? It will be fun.

First, why do screen free week? According to their site:
Instead of watching TV, surfing the web, or playing with apps and video games, they read, play, think, create, get active, and spend more time with family and friends.”

Let’s break this down on what we are adding to our lives this week:

Read – my daughter gets two books read to her every night. My husband or I read a new e-book on her kindle in the living room, then the other person reads one of her favorite printed books in her bedroom. Forgoing the eBook for a week would reduce the number of new books we read to her, causing the conversations we have with her about the books to not happen. So, yeah, there’s that.

Play – playing video games or apps is to not be included in this. I have to ask the question my daughter would: Why? Is it not good to give a child different experiences to explore? My daughter plays with her train set, then has fun playing with her train set app. One does not replace the other. In both cases, she is learning. In the digital world our children will have to function in as adults, do we not want to give them the means to understand the differences between the physical world and the digital one?

Think – my daughter asks for the fun “notepad” game, where she types words she is just learning. She does BitsBox programming on the computer. She is learning how to think in ways that my grandparents never thought possible. Better yet, she is learning to control this thing called technology. What more important thinking skill could she have for the future she will grow into? If our children do not know how to control technology, technology will control them.

Create – sure, my daughter can create art and build new things all she wants with her Legos and her art supplies. But do you want to know what she is creating with me on the computer? A children’s book. I am writing it, and together, we are making the illustrations. She has the final word on the illustrations, and boy is she picky. Once the book is complete, we will get it printed. Then she will have a physical book to read from and show her friends. That beats just about anything else she could create.

Get Active – Every day, my girl practices her dance. At the end of the month, she will be up on stage, performing to a paying audience for the first time. She wants to know exactly what to do. So she uses a screen. After that she has done her practice, I reward her with a Just Dance Kids video. We dance and have fun. On the weekends, we do Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventure. So I guess I should tell my daughter that she can’t do any of that so she can get active? That makes sense.

Spend More Time with Friends and Family – Two people cannot play a video game together? My daughter recently asked for the special treat of playing a racing game with daddy. They joked, the talked, they had fun running into things with the car. It was true quality time. True, it is not the only way to have quality time, but it did not replace quality time with daddy. Let’s go one step further. Her cousins live over ten hours away. She gets to see them in person twice a year. Yet, with the help of a screen, and a little program called Skype, she can visit with them whenever we want. This is time with family she can only get through a screen.

Screen Free week makes some strong arguments:

Screen-Free Week is a fun way to reduce our dependence on digital entertainment, including television, video games, smartphones, tablets, and computers. It’s a chance for children—and adults—to power down and reconnect with the world around them.”

Okay, I get it. Some people do nothing but get consumed by a screen. Do you really think walking away from the screen for one random week will solve this issue? Really? That one week, where your child picks up a physical book or goes outside to play, will change their relationship with technology, and with the world?

First, technology is part of the world we live in, and if we completely disconnect from it to reconnect to the world, we are not really connecting to the world we live in, leaving us ill-prepared to deal with the life in front of us. Second, the best way to balance our time using technology vs our time not using technology is daily, not one week a year.

Just say no to screen-free week, and instead, work on a relationship with the technology that shares our lives.

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