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Screen-Free Week: Raising “Free-Range Children” in Utah?

GRAPHIC: Children and adults are urged to find more creative things to do than watch TV and play video games for one week, starting Apr. 29. Courtesy CCFC.
GRAPHIC: Children and adults are urged to find more creative things to do than watch TV and play video games for one week, starting Apr. 29. Courtesy CCFC.
April 29, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - Gone are the days of "free-range children" who race outside to play after school. However, this week the idea is to get them to try it and to spend time interacting with friends and family. It's "Screen-Free Week," an annual effort by children's advocates to pry kids away from TV and video games, however briefly.

Cheryl Wright, a University of Utah professor who specializes in early childhood development, said it is possible - with interesting activities that satisfy kids' senses.

"Technology hasn't advanced so much that it's all-sensory," she said. "You can't smell technology, you can't taste technology. You can't really feel technology. Sensory experiences are real important for brain development."

Wright said this is a good week for a family meeting to set the rules for future technology use. Adults are also encouraged to take the pledge to swear off TV and DVDs for a week and only use the laptop and smart phone to the extent that they are required for work.

Dr. Susan Linn heads the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. When her group took over hosting what was called "TV Turnoff" three years ago, she says they changed the name because TV is not the only "bad guy."

"It's not even that screens are necessarily 'bad guys,' except for babies," she explained, "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."

Some studies show that, on average, preschoolers spend 32 hours a week in front of screens. When the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under age two, what's a modern parent to do?

Wright explained the reason for the experts' concern.

"The research supports the fact that kids who spend too much screen time have some developmental delays. It can be quite engaging - but it can have some consequences to it," she warned.

Wright said technology has its benefits, but one-on-one interaction beats it hands down in terms of effective learning. For the same reason, she predicted computers will never replace teachers.

To take the "Screen-Free Week" pledge, and for more information, adults can do an Internet search for the topic. Yes, that means using the computer one more time, but then they are urged to turn it off until May 5.

More information is online at www.commercialfreechildhood.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT