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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 29. Courtesy CCFC.
GRAPHIC: Children and adults are urged to resist the tantalizing images on entertainment screens for one week, starting April 29. Courtesy CCFC.
April 30, 2013

PLAINVIEW, N.Y. - This is Screen-Free Week, an annual effort by children's advocates to get kids free from the grip of electronic devices, even 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 dozens of groups around the country.

According to Toni Riedel, communications director at the New York-based Early Years Institute, the idea is to get kids' noses out of Nintendos, Play Stations, smart phones, tablets and TVs and get them to read, explore nature, spend time with friends and family, or just go outside and play.

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

Some studies show that on average preschoolers spend 32 hours a week enthralled by screened entertainment, the CCFC said.

Dr. Susan Linn, director of the CCFC, said that 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.

Toni 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 said that when families are out with restless kids at restaurants and other public places, mobile screens are too often shoved in the children's faces by parents, just to keep them quiet.

"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 suggested.

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

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 - NY