Turning off but tuning in

Returning to the wild, imaginative world in which children live; encouraging outdoor play; and connecting face to face rather than texting or communicating via social media were the goals during National Screen-Free Week, April 29-May 4.

“Having worked with kids for many years now, I believe that 20 years from now the impacts of excessive screen time are going to be viewed as a huge public crisis,” said Jennifer Armstrong, executive director of the Joyce L. Sobel Family Resource Center. Health impacts, according to Armstrong range from sleep deprivation, since many teens take their phone to bed. Musculoskeletal issues can arise from not being as active, and brain and socia-emotional development can also be impaired, she added.

Concerned by how much time children were spending in front of the television, Henry Labalme and Matt Pawa created TV Turnoff Week in 1994.

“Millions of kids and families joined Henry and Matt in turning off their TVs and going outside,” the website stated. In 2010, TV Turnoff Week became Screen-Free Week, and it combined with Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The campaign began in 2000 after a group of educators became concerned about marketing tactics used on children.

“Our advocacy is grounded in the overwhelming evidence that child-targeted marketing undermines healthy development and the belief that society bears responsibility for, and benefits immeasurably from, the wellbeing of children,” states the campaign’s website. It continues, adding that the organization’s goal is to reduce marketers access to and influence on children.

“To be blunt: Strong parental management of screen time correlates with better behavioral, social and academic outcomes in children,” pediatrician Dr. Mark Bertin wrote in a blog on the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website.

For the second year in a row, the Joyce L. Sobel Family Resource Center has partnered with the San Juan Island Library and Island Rec to create a week packed with family-oriented screenless events. There were indoor activities like bingo, felt-making, contra dancing and a visit to the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. The current exhibit focuses on memories from Vietnam War veterans, including many who are local.

For outdoor lovers, there was kickball, a hike up Mount Grant and a ride on the Pintail Marine barge. Families relaxed and bonded with one another after the boat ride during a potluck at the fairgrounds. Island Rec’s Children’s Festival on May 4 at the fairgrounds, with even more games, was Screen-Free Week’s grand finale.

More than 35 island families pledged to go screen-free after school and work for that week, according to Armstrong. That was the events full capacity and included approximately 51 youth.

“The community’s response to providing free events for families has been overwhelming,” she said, noting that businesses like the San Juan Fitness Club and the Pintail jumped on board, as well as the San Juan County Land Bank and nonprofit service clubs like Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor, providing healthy fun activities to assist families and children break away from excessive screen use. Both Griffin Bay Books and Serendipity Books also got involved, providing a discount on books to families that showed their pledge cards. These cards are given to each individual with their registration packet.

“All the events promote healthy child development, family together time and explore all the ways kids can have fun without using a computer, phone or television,” Armstrong said.