“Turn that thing off and go outside!” I seem to remember my mother barking at me.
We had just one black and white TV and 3 channels that came to us via the antenna strapped to our chimney. Back in the 60s the “boob tube” could mesmerize us and turn us into carpet spuds in spite of the limited shows and 1st generation special effects. Is it any wonder that now, with all the channels and variety of programming, not to mention video games, computers and even cell phones that will show videos, that we have a childhood obesity problem?
On April 18-24, children around the world will be asked to celebrate Screen-Free Week (formerly TV-Turnoff) by turning off televisions, computers, and video games and turning on the world around them. Given the links between screen time and childhood obesity, as well as other health and social problems I’m asking parents and grandparents and guardians of all kinds to get on board.
According to Susan Linn, Ed.D., Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School preschool children, on average, spend over four and a half hours a day consuming screen media, while older children spend over 7 hours a day. Excessive screen time is linked to a number of problems for children, including childhood obesity, poor school performance, attention span issues and psychological difficulties. And it’s primarily through screens that children are exposed to harmful marketing. That’s why interventions like Screen-Free Week – which get children actively playing with peers and spending quality time with their families – are more important than ever. Reduced screen time can help prevent childhood obesity and lead to better school and health outcomes.
At the risk of stating the obvious, parents need to model for their children just how to do this. Don’t announce from on high that there will be no TV, video games or computer games; then proceed with your own routines. Give them some options and join in with them if you’re fit enough.
Just what do you do? First, make sure homework is done and if the computer is necessary for doing homework, it should be allowed. But only for completing assignments.
Then consider going low tech. Do you have some old board games? Scrabble? Checkers? Chess? Parcheesi?
Teach them a game from your childhood – does anyone play jacks anymore? It’s great for eye-hand coordination.
Go outside. Bird watch. Throw a Frisbee. Play kickball. Take a walk. Ride bikes. Plant a garden.
Oh, here’s a good one – read! Set aside a time for everyone in the house to read. It doesn’t matter what – magazine or novel, comic book or cookbook. Just read.
Screen Free Week starts April 18. Get to know your family again.