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Fewer Screens, More “Free-Range Children”

GRAPHIC: Children  and adults  are urged to resist the tantalizing images on entertainment screens for one week, starting April 29th. Courtesy CCFC.
GRAPHIC: Children and adults are urged to resist the tantalizing images on entertainment screens for one week, starting April 29th. Courtesy CCFC.
April 29, 2013

BOSTON - Today is the first day of Screen-Free Week, an annual effort by children's advocates to get kids free from the grip of electronic devices - if only for a few days. Started in 1996 as "TV Turnoff," it's now hosted by the Boston-based Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) and promoted by hundreds of groups around the country. The idea behind Screen-Free Week is to get kids' noses out of Nintendos, Play Stations, smartphones, tablets and TVs and get them to read, explore nature, spend time with friends and family.

According to Dr. Susan Linn, the director of the CCFC, when her group took over hosting "TV Turnoff" week three years ago, they changed the name because TV wasn't the only "bad guy" anymore.

"It's not even that screens are necessarily 'bad guys' - except for babies - but it's just that there's too much of them in our lives and way too much of them in children's lives and it's important to take a break," she declared.

Adults are also encouraged to take the pledge to swear off TV or DVDs for a week, and only use the computer if it's required for work.

The CCFC says some studies show, on average, preschoolers spend 32 hours a week enthralled by screened entertainment.

Toni Riedel, director of communications at the Early Years Institute, said kids should just go outside and play.

"Y'know, when we were young, we were outside playing. We were what's called 'free-range children.' Today, kids are tied to screens," she said. "You know, we're in such a technology-oriented society."

Riedel pointed out that for children from birth to at least age two, every week should be screen-free.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: children under two - no screen media, no television."

Susan Linn remarked that when families are out with restless kids at restaurants and other public places, mobile screens are too often shoved in their faces by their parents.

"They could bring books, or they could bring crayons: little things that will occupy them if it's really too hard for them to sit for long periods of time," she said.

To take the pledge, and to get more information and materials, do an Internet search for "Screen-Free Week." Yes - you'll have to use a screen one more time ... but you - and your children - may be better off for it.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA