What’s up with Raffi and National Screen-Free Week?

Screen-free week has a whole different meaning for my city now. I’ve become even more convinced that being glued to the screen is terrible for adults and kids if that screen holds a wellspring of horror. News media can be inflammatory and inflationary. By repeating scenes of crisis and mayhem, injury and shellshock, television news media inflates, for children who are in the room,  the actual imminent danger. And you know what I mean by inflammatory here.

Before the recent tragic events on home turf,  however, I wanted to get some answers to this weird animal called “Screen-Free Week,” so I talked to Josh Golin, Associate Director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood. Here’s what he said.

Q: Before I ask anything else, I’ve got to know, is Raffi [Cavoukian] really coming to the Boston area under your auspices? What’s the Campaign’s connection with Raffi?

A: Raffi once turned down a lot of money to have his song Baby Beluga made into a film. He refused ever to market to children and has been a really outspoken critic of advertising to children.raffi

The Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood has permission from Estate of Fred Rogers to give out the Fred Rogers Integrity Award in his name.  We’ve given it out four times and Raffi is one of the honorees.

We have a May 4th concert at Berklee School of Music. We see it as a screen-free week celebration because its the next to last day of the weeklong campaign. It’s co-sponsored by Raffi’s Center for Child Honoring.

He really did have a lot of opportunities to increase his bottom line by being more aggressive in marketing to children. It’s really honorable that he refused.

Does Screen-Free Week look different in one community, like Cambridge, and different in another place, say somewhere in the Midwest, or in Texas?

We’re struggling with children and adults being so media-saturated everywhere. We’ve had people doing amazing things, all over the country. Bozeman, Montana went all out  and has their entire community behind Screen-Free week, with events at the children’s museum one night, an outdoor event next night, and so on. The success of Screen-Free Week in a given community depends on whether there are a few people to get behind it and support.

The places where communities have embraced Screen-Free week has less to do with geography than where there are people willing to commit to doing something.

What does a successful Screen-Free Week look like?

It means so many different things to so many different people that there’s no one way of success. The most success is where people are creating some level of community around the issue, whether as a classroom or a town, not just taking on the challenge to go screen-free as a family.

Do you go around and evaluate the impact of Screen-Free week in various places?

No, but what we’re really looking for is for people to have fun—for screen-free week not to be this burden with kids feeling “Oh, three more days until I can turn the video games back on!”

Interesting events, gatherings and creative ways of doing screen-free activities are the ones that we find most exciting.

What’s the history of Screen-Free Week?

We took it over in 2011. It used to be TV-turnoff Week, housed at the Center for Screen Time Awareness, which unfortunately went under because of funding difficulties. We were approached by their board and we jumped at the chance to adopt the campaign. In this day and age, it didn’t make sense anymore to call it “TV-turnoff” week. We were worried about changing the name because it was so well recognized.

One of the things we’re trying to do is raise awareness about screen-time as a whole. I think there is already a broader understanding among parents limiting kids time watching TV. But because so many of the technologies are now “educational,” and because some are simply more interesting than TV, we don’t always think of the amount of screen time itself being an issue.

Screen-Free Week is a campaign to help parents think through what all those hours, on all different kinds of screens, add up to on a daily basis. It’s six, seven hours, for a kid or teen, in many cases.

How is that “screen-free” term working for you?

We do get a lot of pushback. But what we stress is that this is about entertainment. We’re not saying don’t go to work, or if kid has a homework assignment they shouldn’t do it. Sometimes that message doesn’t get through as clearly as we like.

Some people say it’s not realistic to expect people to actually go screen-free. I find that interesting! If our lives have changed so much that just going a week without TV or video games for kids isn’t thinkable, well, that says a lot.

I think a lot of where the value comes from is the cold turkey aspect. In my own life, it’s really interesting to see the changes that take place in me.


Free-Range Meets Children and Nature

Free Range meets urban planning meets the play outdoors movement—this trirumvirate is like a pitch you’d make to a film studio. Bend It Like Beckham meets Totoro meets Stand By Me. We’d get Claire Danes to play Lenore Skenazy, who starts the new movement, Ralph Fiennes to play Richard Louv struggling to turn off his iPhone as he enters his off-the-grid bunker-with-a-view, and Roberto Benigni to play an under-employed historian mother-of-two accidentally impersonating an ecologist (That would be me. It’s my blog so I get to do the casting).

A recent post by Skenazy in her blog reports on an outlier example of outright un-neighborly neighborhood design:

One impediment to spontaneous, outdoor meeting/greeting/playing is simply a lack of city planning. Or at least, a lack of planning that prioritizes helping people connect.  it’s hard for a group of kids to meet up at the park, if it’s across a major access road with few stop lights and a sea of cars.

from Free Range Kids » Backdoor Neighbors Have to Drive 7 Miles to Shake Hands.

People connecting with people? No one’s going to object to that goal outright, you might think. Yet cities have their peculiar geographies. As bizarre a circumstance as traveling seven miles to shake hands with next-door neighbor—that stands out. That’s a headline . Other peculiarities are as quotidian as segregated neighborhoods; mixed-zoning areas that are “under the radar,” where environmental pollutants may be less regulated; or the allocation of shade trees along class lines. These are the features that go unexamined to the majority of city dwellers because they are—precisely—part of the landscape.

I’m looking forward to hearing Skenazy speak at Wheelock College when she comes to Boston next week.

Her constant questioning whether our parenting in this era has gotten ridiculously overprotective probably makes a lot people even more uncomfortable in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings. What is the right amount of safety, or more to the point, what is safety itself?  I’m one to say that physical safety, what our gut-level parent instinct tells us to protect, deserves a new look. Preventing our kids from suffering from immediate physical harm from school-shooters, pedophiles and the like, while important, is the low-hanging fruit. Gun control is a no-brainer. Some other things—to name just a few—such as the prevention of noncommunicable diseases, climate-change environmental catastrophe, Internet addiction, relegating people with autism to second-class citizenship, and so-called lifestyle-related diseases, require a bit more coffee (or a few more brain cells) to solve. So, here’s the manifesto (cue ironic brass band music):

Ralph Fiennes: Out of the hammocks and into the trees!

Claire Danes: Out of the cars and onto the streets!

Roberto Benigni: Zone for the Voles, Owls,  Toddlers, and Myriapods!

Not coming to a theatre near you. But to your neighborhood? I hope you’ll go the seven miles (if necessary) to shake hands with your warm, fuzzy city planner and your city councillor and ask them to option this film.