Five Reasons Why Screen-Free Week is Essential for Kids and Families

By: By Melanie Hempe, RN

Is your toddler sleeping with his iPad? Is your grade-schooler always playing with your phone? Is your middle-schooler staying inside to play Minecraft every day? Was your high school son up till 3am last night playing his video games? With no real limits and left to manage technology on their own, most children will overuse it. As our culture saturates our children with media, our job as parents is to skillfully guide them through the deluge of distractions. While we may try to convince ourselves that their media is educational, social, and healthy, deep down parents know instinctively that our children are getting too much screen time. It is never too late to get more facts about the ever-changing world of childhood screens and reset bad habits. Even a teenager can find tremendous benefits to reducing screen time, but they need the help of loving parents to draw the limits, initiate a new hobby and show them by example that family attachment is more important than screen attachment. So instead of getting upset or just caving in to all the craziness, let’s do something positive. Take a week off to reset by participating in National Screen-Free Week, May 1-7.

Here are five reasons why your children would benefit from Screen-Free Week:

1. It gives their brains a break.

Adrenaline and dopamine are released in the brain with screen use, and these chemicals have a dramatic effect on the young brain. If you feel that gaming is having a drug-like effect on your child, then you are right—it does. And he needs a break. (You may need a break, too, from your Candy Crush time. Your brain will thank you!)

2. It helps your family reset priorities and connections.

Real face-to-face relationships are far more significant than screen games and social media. A week off will allow your child to refocus on the people in their lives. Our children desperately need to maintain strong connections with us instead of being so connected to their media. Research tells us that strong family connections and attachments are the most important factors for predicting future health and success.

3. It provides children time to explore other interests.

Our kids sit down to play a quick game, and before we know it, they have wasted three hours! Yet the danger is not always in what they are doing on the game; it is in what they are not doing: daydreaming, thinking, learning new skills, moving, exploring nature, or reading a real book on your lap. Gaming and social media lowers our kids’ motivation for other worthwhile pursuits. Imagine what other interests your child could explore if he had a week off his screen?

4. It helps children rediscover what real play is.

Screen entertainment does not meet the requirement for real play. According to physician and researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play and author of the book Play, real play is a profound biological brain process that happens in real three-dimensional life, not in virtual life. Real play requires interaction with the real world with hands, physical activity, and imagination that isn’t present in screen-play. Screen-based entertainment can make your child antsy and unfocused. Typing on a keyboard to build something will never match the brain benefits of actually throwing a ball, building a clay model, or even digging in the dirt.

5. It supplies a reality check.

Taking a week off games and screens will allow us to re-evaluate potential addiction problems in our families and reset our limits and rules. To keep us from becoming the proverbial “frog in the boiling pot of water,” we all need a reality check to reset our potentially addictive habits. Screen-Free Week is the perfect time to start!

Go for it!

Every child deserves a chance to have certain carefree elements in their childhood. Making that happen is a challenge that all parents face, but is critical for all of our children. Families Managing Media is here to help you find that balance, reduce the screen use in your child’s life, and restore peace in your home. Remember that you can take a week without screens anytime, but why not jump start it during Screen-Free Week? It may just be what you need to get your kids back on track. And who knows—once you see what life can be like without entertainment screens in the way, you may never go back!

In 2011, Melanie Hempe discovered the dark underworld of video game addiction as she realized her son’s gaming had finally crossed the line. As an RN and mother of four, she set out to help other struggling families and to her surprise 125 families attended her first presentation. Now she speaks to packed auditoriums of concerned parents, blogs about kids, tweens and teens media use and has established Families Managing Media, which supports parents in raising healthy children in a media-saturated world.