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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.
May 1, 2013

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's 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 Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and promoted by dozens of groups around the nation. The idea, said Toni Riedel, director of communications for the Early Years Institute, is to get youngsters' noses out of Nintendos, PlayStations, smartphones, tablets and TVs and get them to read, explore nature, spend time with friends and family or just go outside and play.

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

The campaign points to some studies that show that, on average, preschoolers spend 32 hours a week enthralled by screened entertainment. Adults also are 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.

When her group took over TV Turnoff Week three years ago, said Dr. Susan Linn, the campaign's director, it changed the name because television 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," she said, "and it's important to take a break."

For children from birth to at least age 2, Riedel said, every week should be screen-free.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: children under 2 - no screen media, no television," she said.

To take the pledge and get more information and materials, go online to commercialfreechildhood.org/screenfreeweek. Yes, you'll have to use a screen one more time - but then, you can turn off the computer until May 5.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV