Just Say No to Screen-Free Week

Family GeekMom Technology

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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10 thoughts on “Just Say No to Screen-Free Week

  1. I… don’t understand any of your arguments. Perhaps this could also be a good week for mom to get creative? Hint… screen free week isn’t just about taking screens away, but about replacing them with off-screen activities. Can’t read an ebook? Read another book. Child needs to practice dance? How about a reward of a trip to the park? Or dancing with mommy? Or try dancing elsewhere to make practice more interesting. Yes the book is cool, but does that seriously beat her experiencing creating something with her own two hands? Most of art is experiencing textures and problem solving in trying to get a desired end product from the materials at hand. It’s great that she has these things, but why so hesitant to try something new?

    1. Thank you, Monica. Why do I have to remove the screen for a week to get more creative? Should I cancel our weekly family bike ride so that my daughter can make a tie-dye shirt? Should I teach her that reading an ebook is wrong but a print book is right? My girl uses the screen to practice her dance, as she follows a video of her dance teacher every night, should I take that guide away from her? And is doing a fun dance video really inferior to dancing freestyle? Should I really tell her that we will not work on our special book because we will be making yarn tails, instead of doing both with her? Do I really need to wait for a random week in May to engage with her in the ways you mentioned, but make it completely absent of screen time? Wouldn’t it be better for me to pull out her yoga cards at times, and do a yoga video at other times? Or read for different media sources as a rule rather than only read her ebooks most of the year, then ban them for one random week of the year? Wouldn’t it be better to teach her about both the physical world and the virtual world, and how they coexist? To teach her when the virtual world can be a tool for her to use? And that a bonding experience is just as valid because it is a bonding experience, not because it is a bike ride or a video game? I watch the amount of screen time she has to make sure she has balance in her life. Similarly, when she wants to do math works four days in a row at school, she is encouraged to do a reading or geography work the next day. However, she is never told, “You cannot do any math for a week.” That teaches her that math is bad. The same goes for taking away screen time. My sister in law has screen free days because her son has a personality that will do screen time to the exclusion of all else, but these are spaced throughout each week, not a single random week of the year. Further, the claim of screen-free time, per their website, is that the activities listed above cannot happen with screen time, which is simply wrong. Moms should bring creative activities into their children’s lives throughout the year. People should balance their screen time with the physical world throughout the year. Why should I wait for a random week to do these things, and then why in a way that sends the message to my child that all technology is bad?

  2. Great post Claire!
    Thanks so much for the insight and your thoughts and personal experience…
    Precisely thinking about getting back to “real” human interaction and not leaving the “learning” part aside, is that we came up with a family multiplication strategy card game, called Holimaths X brought to you by Holiplay Games, ages 6+, 10 ways to play it and solid academic evaluations, which will hopefully be reviewed by Ruth from the GeekMom staff, we sent a game to her last week, which is the first of a 9 game series that will also not only deal with dividing, adding, subtracting, but algo with art, chemistry, geography and other subjects, aimed for the whole family but mainly for parents that want to and will teach there sons and daughters personally. Amazingly, you would be surprised how many ARE NOT willing to do so.
    Back to our games, we plan to launch a Kickstarter soon, so any support would more than welcome. If you want to review our game yourself, we would gladly send you one so you can see for yourself the extraordinary effectiveness of the games that will let you learn having fun and have fun while teaching!


    1. I don’t mean this to be cruel, but helpful. Normally grammar nazis on the internet are just tearing people down. But please regard this as constructive criticism:

      You are in this post advertising your product. An educational product. If I am going to trust you to help educate my child, I need to see that you are educated first. Take the extra time not to make silly mistakes like “there/their/there” swaps, or “your/you’re” mixups. Check for typos (you used algo instead of also) as well.

      These mistakes absolutely do not prevent me from undestanding you. But the do ensure that I want nothing to do with an educational product from you. And I don’t even know if you had a hand in writing any of the in-game text!

      Absolutely any time you mention your product publicly, you are indeed advertising for it. So take the time to get some polish.

    2. Thanks for the offer Matt, but Ruth has the review covered. Our family loves tabletop games, and I look forward to reading her review.

  3. Interesting post! I did a screen free week with my kids b/c we were watching a little too much tv. It’s a useful way to reset. I like your ideas for using digital technology collaboratively; I think making it an interaction is key, instead of a mostly passively consumed thing. I don’t know if you saw that the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their screen time guidelines. They no longer put a time limit for screens instead promoting responsible, thoughtful use (as you describe in your post). It just makes sense as there’s less and less difference between screen time and plain old time. That being said, I really strongly believe in free play as in leave your kid or kids alone, no you, no screens, no planned activities, and see what happens when they have to rely on themselves for entertainment. It’s a pretty good skill to help kids develop. Bonus, free play is how I sleep to a decent hour most mornings since my kids are early birds.

    1. Thanks for your insight Amanda. On screen-free week, did you do it when you felt it was becoming a bit too much? Did You wait for screen-free week? Or did screen-free week serve as a reminder for you to examine this? I agree that free play, as well as technology free play, are important parts of a child’s life. If it allows you to sleep, then all the better.

  4. I agree with you, can’t families spend time together by play Kirby star allies or Mario kart 8? Screen-free is bad, I’m with you, geek mom.

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