Listen to this article in the audio player below:
On Wednesday, May 2, children and parents gathered at the Skagit Valley College in Friday Harbor to trade computer games for the real-life versions.
“I’ve been going to museums and doing art and playing bingo,” said fourth-grader Susi De Bruyn.
That’s how Susi said she’s been spending time since she agreed to take a week-long break from computers, smartphones and TVs as part of a national campaign to be screen-free.
From April 30-May 6, that meant no online games for Susi — her typical after-school fun.
“Every time I look on my shelf I see my tablet and it makes me want to play games on it,” she said on May 2.
Instead of tablet games, Susi, and the 24 other children who registered for the local screen-free program were invited to stay disconnected with daily events throughout the week. Programs included playing bingo with the Soroptimists of Friday Harbor, bird watching with the local national historical parks and attending Island Rec’s Children’s Festival.
Staff from the San Juan Island Family Resource Center, as well as the San Juan Island Library, spearheaded the local screen-free week as part of a national campaign to bring awareness to the consequences computer and TV use have on children’s health.
According to the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, which oversees the national initiative, children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven hours a day plugged in. Excessive screen time leads to issues like obesity, irregular sleep, loss of social skills and even violence.
The negative effects only increase, said the SJIFRC Executive Director Jennifer Armstrong, as screen use grows.
“Screen time for kids just keeps increasing and increasing and there are a lot of pieces of their development – physically, cognitively, emotionally – [as well as] family relationships that can really suffer when screen time takes over,” she said.
Susi’s mom Maria said a break from screens was welcomed, for both her 9-year-old daughter and herself.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of other members of our community through the fun activities that have been provided,” she said. “My daughter has had a blast.”