Jacques Brodeur, 1943 - 2020
More than one of us reading here today has lost a friend or family member to Covid-19. The world of children’s screen time advocacy has lost a dear and ardent advocate in the incomparable Jacques Brodeur, founder of Edupax and the 10-Day Screen-Free Challenge.
I met Jacques in 2013 at CCFC’s Consuming Kids Summit.
I was a graduate student dipping my toes into the deep waters of big tech takeover of childhood. On a break, I got my coffee and snack and sat at the end of a long table to listen to people I didn’t yet know. Jacques was talking passionately, gesticulating with his hands, about children’s needs being siphoned by corporate interests. I introduced myself and it was the beginning of a meaningful partnership.
Jacques was a peace-builder who understood that world peace, societal peace, and community peace started with the family and the proper care and raising of children. He communicated the message that children who are neglected or abused or feel unsafe can turn into the bullies that create violence.
What would he say about the events of this past week and their impact on children? No doubt children were exposed to the events through their screens. A president whose media image was more important than civil discourse. A violent mob infiltrating a sacred institution. The sights and sounds instill fear in adults who can process it, let alone developing children. Jacques would say directly, “You are the parents! You have the power to limit their exposure to violent media.” “Yes. Answer their questions. But, also give them space to be kids.” Massive exposure to violent entertainment and overexposure to commercial interests made a combustible combination. Both how much children see and what they see will shape behavior, he’d argue.
In the words of CCFC founder Susan Linn,
“Jacques was such a charming, playful, and fun-loving man. He was, however, dead serious about his important work rooted in his commitment to working with children and youth to promote peace and prevent violence. When I met him in 2004 he was already internationally known for highlighting the links between glorifying violence and media-enabled commercialism, and for devising creative ways to curb children’s excessive screen time. He was a great friend to CCFC and will be sorely missed.”
One of those creative approaches was his 10-Day Screen-Free Challenge, which he implemented across France and Canada with middle and high school students. “They participate on their own,” he explained in his 2018 session at the Action Network’s Inaugural Conference. He spoke slowly and intentionally. “No pressure is allowed from teachers or parents. They have to want to improve themselves and experience the difference.” He went on to explain that he gets huge numbers of participants. Those who choose not to participate are usually jealous by day 5 and wish they had joined that challenge.
The book, Dix Jours Sans Ecrans by Sophie Rigal-Goulard, is a book for kids about the challenge, which Jacques wished to have translated into English. (If anyone would like to volunteer to do so, please be in touch.)
A refrain he often repeated, “I take their phones. What do I give them back?” – dramatic pause – “their frontal lobes!” Now whenever we’re driving somewhere unfamiliar and manage to get there without a GPS, my husband will channel Jacques by saying, “We’re using our frontal lobes!”
“There was no one better than Jacques at getting kids excited about unplugging,” says CCFC Executive Director Josh Golin.
“He was engaging, playful and funny and he got kids to put down their devices and turn off their video games not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Long before The Social Dilemma, Jacques recognized the power of persuasive design and that a key to getting kids the screen-free time they need was helping them understand that they were being manipulated by media companies and game designers. He will be greatly missed.”
“There was no one better than Jacques at getting kids excited about unplugging. He was engaging, playful and funny and he got kids to put down their devices and turn off their video games not because they had to, but because they wanted to.”
-Josh Golin, CCFC Executive Director
For Jacques, the essence of life was people. He loved being part of the Children’s Screen Time Action Network because he met many kindred souls. He particularly appreciated Action Network members Matt Miles and Joe Clement, who work with high school students, a precious and vulnerable population. He would talk to anyone who would listen and tell the stories of his work. Here is a snippet from our 2018 inaugural conference in Boston. He was as comfortable sharing his passions with one person (our videographer) as with large crowds. He looked at each one of us as important and our work essential. He made me feel like I could do anything.
Our community has lost a hero. Jacques, we continue your work with pride and honor.