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The Slacker's Guide to Screen-Free Week

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  April 29, 2013 07:24 AM

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television.jpgOkay, guys: it's Screen-Free Week. From April 29th to May 5th, we are supposed to shut them off--TV's, computers, video games, iPads. We're allowed to use them for work or homework (I think), but that's it.

I don't think I can make that happen in my house.

Don't get me wrong. I think that we have way too much screen time in our lives, especially kids. And it's not good for us. Being in front of screens for hours each day increases the risk of obesity, as well as the risk of attentional problems, aggression and other behavioral problems. We don't want this for our kids--nobody does.

But in my family, screens are so much part of our lives that shutting them off completely would cause more unhappiness than I am willing to manage. I am, though, willing to cut back for a week--and use this as an opportunity to remind my family that there is more to life than screens. It's a slacker approach, I know, but for my family it might just be more effective.

So here are some suggestions for those times when you or your kids might gravitate toward a screen. If you're going to be a slacker like me, you don't have to try all of them...just try what works for you.

Mornings. Whether it's the morning news or SpongeBob, television is often part of the morning routine. On weekday mornings, shutting it off can be helpful--if it's on I come down from the shower ready to put everyone in the car only to find my youngest two half-dressed with their hair and teeth unbrushed. So keep it off, and linger over breakfast instead. Read the funnies. Play music really loud and dance while you get dressed. 

On weekend mornings, try snuggling. Hanging out in bed together in the morning can be really nice. Cook breakfast--or go out for breakfast. Read not just the funnies but the whole paper together, and talk about it; it may lead to some really interesting conversations. 

Afternoons. This is when my 7-year-old really clamors for the Wii or iPad. Distraction is key. Now that the weather is better, try staying outside, whether it's at the playground after school or the park on weekends. Kick a soccer ball around, play catch or Red Light Green Light or some other game you used to play as a kid. Go to a craft or school supply store and get paper and paints and play Picasso--or use what you have around the house to make things like play-dough or leaf rubbings. Go to the library, and curl up and read when you get home. If none of that works, bake cookies. That always works in our house. And rather than using screens to occupy the kids while you cook dinner, have them cook with you

You might want to try a visit to the zoo or to a museum, too. There's some really cool stuff to do in Boston--we are loving the Planetarium recently (the kids can find Orion's belt and some other constellations now) and if you haven't taken your kids to the MFA, you should--it's way more kid-friendly than you might think.

Evenings. Try reading books out loud--either short picture books, or longer ones like the Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia series (EB White and Roald Dahl books are great for reading aloud too). Play board games--they can be really fun. Apples to Apples (or the Junior version) is one that everybody in my family (my kids range from 22 to 7) can play together and have a good time--as are Wits and Wagers and Quirkle. But old standards, like Monopoly and Life and Scrabble, are great too. Make popcorn, spread out on the floor, maybe play in your jammies. You may just end up making it a habit even when Screen-Free week is over.

I guess that's the point: you might just find that some of this stuff is more fun, and makes you happier, than screens. That's why it's worth a try, even if you take the slacker approach and only do some days or parts of days. And actually, the slacker approach makes it more of a choice and less of a mandate--which might make folks a bit more positive about making sustained changes as opposed to toughing it out for a week and then going back to their old habits.

Let me know how it works out--and pass on any ideas you might have. I'd love to hear from you!

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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