As America moves closer to a smartphone in every pocket and a Netflix subscription in every home, going an entire week “screen free” isn’t nearly as easy as it was during the first national Screen Free Week in 1994.
This year’s Screen Free Week, May 1-7, is taking place in a much different environment — one where the average American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes a day looking at a screen, according to a 2016 Nielsen Company study, including four and a half hours watching television or movies.
Going cold turkey on digital entertainment (participation still allows for screen time needed for a job or schoolwork) might be too much for some, but on Wednesday night families in Umatilla were at least making a dent.
A “screen free” event sponsored by the OSU Extension Center, city of Umatilla and Good Shepherd Medical Center drew a crowd of children and parents who played with giant beach balls, frisbees, bicycles, a colorful parachute and toddler toys at Hash Park.
Robyn and Travis Crist showed up with their children and spent time tossing around a frisbee and walking a mile-long trail around the park area. They weren’t going screen free for the entire week, but did want to enjoy at least one evening outside in the warm, sunny weather as a family.
“It beats sitting around watching TV,” Travis said.
Robyn said the family is fairly new to town and it was a good opportunity to get out and meet people. Their daughter Jazzmen Alvarado, 14, said she was glad she came.
“I complained about it a little, because it was hot, but it was still fun,” she said.
Judy Cardenas was at the park with her daughter and niece, ages nine and seven.
“It allows them to interact with other kids, off their tablets and phones, and get fresh air of course, and sunlight,” she said.
City manager Russ Pelleberg said he loved seeing so many Umatilla families out and about enjoying the city’s parks.
According to screenfree.org, the idea of a screen free week came about in 1994 out of concerns that television was being used too often as a babysitter for children. Studies have shown that too much screen time at a young age has negative effects on children’s development, particularly speech and the areas of their brain associated with things like impulse control and the ability to concentrate. Those effects can last into adulthood. Today the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under 18 months and only two hours a day for children older than that.
Too much time in front of a screen is bad for adults, too. It has been linked to ailments including obesity, insomnia, eye strain, heart disease, high blood pressure and shorter attention spans.
Since “TV Turnoff Week,” as it was originally known, was first promoted around the country, millions of families have participated in turning off the TV and other electronic entertainment for a week in the spring.
Screenfree.org offers ideas and other resources for schools and cities to offer screen free events during May. Although this week was the official national Screen Free Week, families can resolve to do their own screen free week next week and participate in two Hermiston activities: May 8 from 6-7 p.m. at Sunset Elementary School and May 11 at 5:30 p.m. at Lovin’ Spadefuls Community Garden on the Good Shepherd Medical Center plaza. There will be activities for children of all ages, healthy recipe tastings and free dental kits available.
Angie Treadwell, the supplemental nutrition education coordinator for the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, organized those events and the Umatilla one Wednesday.
“We’re just trying to get people to step away from their screens,” she said. “We’re all guilty of that.”
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.