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.

 

Fire Up Your Engines: Screen-Free Week Starts April 29th

Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff
Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff

Screen-Free Week (April 29–May 5, 2013) gets a lot of flak, not to mention wolf-crying from some parties. Is it a slippery slope towards the denial of digital citizenship if we suggest kids should spend less time on computers, tablets, and e-readers?

There are many good arguments for children to be educated in technology and that schools train kids to be good digital citizens. Technology, screens, media—it’s part of our landscape now, and equipping our kids for survival means giving them that skill set. However, “advergaming,” dopamine-induced calm, and using ipads to fill kids’ downtime doesn’t hold any benefit for them (perhaps, it does, though, to overstressed parents and caregivers). Daydreaming, running around, and real-life play has a developmentally functional role.

Turning off our phones, ipads, gaming devices, and televisions for a week—filling the downtime with uptime instead of screen time, is a way to model connectedness for kids. The other kind of connectedness.

Is Screen-Free week a haven for Luddites and anti-technology, granola-crunching, bread-baking, wooden-toy-pushers? Well, I may be a card-carrying member of the last three of those groups, but I’ve also been networked and tweeting for a good long while. I’m never going back, but I am vigilant about screen-time in my household.SFW-logo-with-2013-date-and-website

This TEDxRainer talk by Dr. Dimitri Christakis is a good introduction to research on how TV and video exposure affect the development of attention skills in children. His lab found that the more cognitive stimulation kids received by age 3 (reading, museum visits, singing to kids), the better their ability to pay attention at age 7. TV and video had a correspondingly negative effect on later attention skills. For every hour of TV watched per day before age 3, there was a 10 percent negative difference in attentional skills at age 7.

Need more reasons to consider going screen-free and talking your school, household, or significant other into joining you? Here’s an excerpt from the Institute of Medicine‘s Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policy:

Major federal government initiatives have concluded that screen time is related to weight outcomes, and to adequacy of physical activity, but do not limit their definition of screen time to media that contains food advertising. The CDC’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends behavioral interventions aimed at reducing screen time based on “sufficient evidence of effectiveness for reducing measured screen time and improving weight-related outcomes”. They define screen time as “time spent watching TV, videotapes, or DVDs; playing video or computer games; and surfing the internet.” In identifying research gaps, they point out that important research issues remain, including that “additional research is needed to identify how screen time affects health outcomes”. One of their research questions is “What is the mechanism for screen time being associated with weight-related outcomes?” (Community Guide, 2010).

Healthy People 2020 positions screen time as a direct competitor with adequate physical activity in children from birth to 12th grade. Key physical activity objectives recommended by Healthy People 2020 (HHS, 2010) include: increase the proportion of children aged 0 to 2 years who view no television or videos on an average week day; increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 through 12th grade who view television, videos, or play video games for less than 2 hours a day; and increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 years to 12th grade who use a computer or play computer games outside of school (or nonschool work) for less than 2 hours a day.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)(2001) recommends limiting children’s total media time to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day and discouraging television viewing for children younger than 2 years of age. Yet, a recent study suggests that more than a third of health care providers fail to discuss television guidelines with parents (Spivack et al., 2010).

Although the committee thought it was reasonable to assume that the relationship between screen time and obesity found among 2 to 5 year olds is likely to be similar in the birth to 2 age group, there was insufficient evidence about this relationship for the committee to make an obesity prevention recommendation for the younger age group. The committee notes, however, that there is evidence unrelated to obesity (e.g., about cognitive development) that has led others to raise concerns about any screen time in this age group. Thus the committee believes that discouraging screen time in this age group may be important for other reasons, as noted by AAP (2001).

Full document here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13124.

You can find a slew of suggestions for Screen-Free Week organizing and activities at screenfreeweek.org. Consider a granola-making party for your neighborhood gang of rascals (then tweet about it the following week).