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Simple swaps for ‘Screen-Free Week’ and beyond

Take part in the national week of switching off the screens!

Table your tablet. Lose the laptop. Forget about your phone.

On May 2-8, 2016, children, families, and communities in the Hudson Valley and beyond are being challenged to participate in “Screen-FreeWeek” in an effort to rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen.

First created in 1994 as “TV-Turnoff” week by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the week it was a chance to encourage children and adults “power down” their screens and rev up their involvement in life by spending free time playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, and connecting with family and friends.

[Read more: 17 screen-free activities]

[Read more: Screen-savvy tips]

While it’s nearly impossible to get by without screens these days, think of this week as a reset button on your family’s screen use.

Cutting back on screen time leaves more time for: 

• Exercise and active play

• Reading and imaginative play

• Family games and conversation

• Exploring and connecting with the world around us


Set expectations

According to Acacia Stevens Mauriello, co-founder of ValueAdded Tutoring in Beacon, an organization dedicated to helping kids succeed in school and beyond, it’s important for parents to resist the urge to fill up their children's screen-free week with activities.

“It's actually really, really good for kids — and adults — to have real downtime where they sit and do nothing or very little at all,” she says. “Thinking and daydreaming are extremely important, and that can't happen if every second is full of activity. If your kids complain that they are bored, that's actually a good thing; research is beginning to show that boredom has creativity-enhancing benefits.” From there, parents should let kids take the lead in generating ideas for how to spend this time, says Mauriello.

“Letting kids take the lead on finding and even creating new activities to do without screens encourages creativity, while parent-led activity encourages the same kind of passivity as the TV, which defeats part of the purpose of going screen-free,” she says. “Added bonus: less work for parents!”

For older kids who might be really struggling with (or even vocally resentful of) going screen-free, parents might suggest having the kids create something for the medium they miss the most.

“If it's TV the child is missing, have them write the ideal TV show that they'd want to watch — not something that's already on TV, but an entirely new show created by them,” Mauriello suggests. “If they miss playing on the smartphone or tablet, have them draw up a plan for creating the ideal app that they’d love for that platform. Though they're still thinking about their beloved devices, in this way they're also being creative rather than passive consumers of media made by someone else. And who knows? Maybe they'll come up with something really good that they can actually sell or promote!”

[Read more: Tips for smart media use for kids]

[Read more: Put down the phone!]

[Read more: How to be an iParent]

What about work and school? Both often require computer use, and more and more, we rely on screens to communicate. The official Screen-Free Pledge reads: “Watch no TV or DVDs, play no video or mobile games, and only use the computer if it's required for work [or school].” 

Adapt the pledge to cover other devices, like smart phones, or uses, like social media. Holding a family meeting is a great way to set up expectations — for kids and parents.

Screen-Free Week is about reconnecting with the people and the non-screen activities in our lives. So why not take a break for a week, reset your screen use, and build good screen-habits together?

Sara Barry is a freelance writer who’ll be cutting back on screen time to get out in the garden more.