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Family Forum: Turn Off, Tune In?

Long Island's Early Years Institute asks parents to turn off the kids’ electronics and go out and play together.

Some parents may not be thrilled to learn that spring break happens to coincide with Screen-Free Week. But through April 24, the (EYI) in Plainview is asking local parents to turn off the kids’ electronics and go out and play together.

Fortunately, the organization — which works to improve the early childhood experience — is making it easier to do so with a list of alternative activities and the support of museums, libraries and kid-friendly businesses.

The concept comes from real concerns among researchers that young children today spend far too many hours alone in front of a TV, computer and hand-held devices, says Dana E. Friedman, Ed.D., president of the EYI.

For instance, 40 percent of three-month-olds are regular viewers of screen media and 19 percent of babies one year and under already have a TV in their bedrooms. And this is in spite of the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under age two.

Screen usage only increases from there, with kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spending as much as 7.5 hours of screen time a day. In fact, Friedman said, children spend more time using screen media than any other activity other than sleep.

“Today’s kids spend an average of only 16 minutes every day playing creatively, and only 4 to 7 minutes outside per day,” Friedman said. “The end result is a long list of issues, from compromised learning skills to obesity.”

To raise the public’s consciousness, the EYI has made local the nationwide Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which declared April 18-24 Screen-Free Week. The idea is to invite families to take a pledge to reduce the amount of time children spend watching TV, using computers and playing on hand-held devices.  You can download the pledge and activity log here.

Don’t worry that you’ve missed two days; you can extend it into next week, or start today and do the best you can for the rest of the week. The main goal is to increase your family’s awareness of how much time you spend in front of a screen.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy other activities the rest of this vacation week. EYI is providing an online “Guide to Screen Alternatives” featuring local businesses, museums, parks and other facilities that will suggest indoor and outdoor activities for children and families either for free or at a discounted price. Every library, already a substitute for screen-time, has reading and craft activities to enjoy all week.

In addition, some favorite children’s venues are offering discounts for kids who bring in their pledge card. These include:

: History Takes a Vacation
Thursday, April 21st – Colonial Crafts and Games

Discover how kids had fun before the age of computers and video games. You’ll have an opportunity to play games and do crafts just like they did long ago.

 Designed for grades 2-5; 9:30-11:30am each day; $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers; Come to all three programs for $50 for members, $65 for nonmembers. Space is limited.

Art and Fun
Plaster Funcraft, - 6333 Jericho Turnpike, Commack, NY April 18-24, 10am-6pm; Let your child’s creativity shine through with painting, dancing and other fun activities. Discounted rate of $7 per child. Please call to reserve a spot in advance.
631.493.0620 or www.plastercraftonline.com

For more Long Island activities, visit EYI’s Guide to Screen Alternatives

Liza N. Burby is Publisher of Long Island Parent magazine. To learn more about how to participate in Screen-Free Week, you can also visit Long Island Parent for more kid-friendly, screen-free events.

Liza N. Burby April 20, 2011 at 06:49 PM
I don't think we need one more thing to blame ourselves for, and this isn't what Screen-Free Week is about.The main purpose is to increase our own awareness of how much time we as a family spend in front of screens and make a conscious decision to reduce that time.
Kelly Campbell April 20, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Catholic guilt! How appropriate for the final week of Lent. Honestly, I love to quantify things so I think we will log how much we are using. But where to start? Right now in my house we have three TVs, two laptops, five cell phones, three Nintendo DSs and a Wii.
Liza N. Burby April 20, 2011 at 07:30 PM
There's a great sidebar to the Screen-Free article that tells you how to start. http://liparentonline.com/features3.html And the best part is that it's more about family communication than it is about charts and numbers--and guilt.
Kelly Campbell April 20, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Great! Thanks, Liza.

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