By Rinny Yourman
My family has participated in Screen-Free Week, sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, for the last three years. But before I say more, I should start with a confession: I absolutely love this week.
Next Monday, May 5th, is the start of this year’s Screen-Free Week (SFW), which, as the name implies, is a week of living without entertainment media. Families are challenged to find a week’s worth of alternate forms of enjoyment, through outdoor sports, nature walks, board games, family read-aloud times, crafts, cooking and so on.
Now, I love this week because of the simultaneous detoxifying and regenerating effects it has on my family and our web of relationships. As Catherine Steiner-Adair writes in her recently published book, The Big Disconnect, in the family context screens can triangulate the parent-child bond, adding another dimension to what used to be a more straightforward relationship. SFW essentially helps reinvigorate these familial relationships by allowing for fresher interactions between family members without the static of interfering screens.
When my family first celebrated SFW our eldest was in kindergarten, admittedly an easy age for beginning our annual experiment in simpler living. Last year, with our kids 8 and 5 years old, we incorporated a discussion about SFW into our family meeting, a practice we implemented after I learned about it in my PEP classes.
At that meeting, I announced that we would be participating in SFW again (yes—I’ll admit—to a chorus of groans). I explained why the week is important to our family’s values, then suggested that we plan together what we wanted to accomplish with all our free time during that week.
Finally, a tentative, “Can we go bike riding?”
“Sure! That’s a great way to enjoy some pleasant spring weather,” I responded.
As the kids grew more emboldened, suggestions tumbled out of their mouths rather quickly.
“How about going out for dinner?”
“Can we bake something together?”
“I want to roast marshmallows in our fireplace!”
Then my daughter asked, “Can we start reading the next Harry Potter book?” We had read the first two aloud, but a few months had elapsed and we hadn’t broken open the third. SFW seemed like a great opportunity to do so.
During last year’s SFW we managed to accomplish everything the children asked for, and more (we did have seven days to fill!), and at the end of the week we reflected on the experience. There were no complaints, surprisingly, as the kids said they enjoyed the novelty of life beyond the ordinary, especially during the school week.
I found that, with the screens gone, I enjoyed richer conversations with my kids, transcending the usual discussions of such tired subjects as homework and chores. And I think that the family meeting was the right way to introduce the topic and solicit suggestions. My kids were much more invested in the experience when we respectfully listened to their wishes and then, most importantly, followed through.
In whatever ways your family chooses to celebrate going screen free, I hope the experience proves meaningful to you.
Rinny Yourman is a member of PEP’s board of directors and a parent educator in training.
What plans does your family have for Screen Free Week? Add your suggestions and goals in the comments!