(Public News Service) SEATTLE - Gone are the days of "free-range children" who race outside to play after school. This week, however, the idea is to get them to try it and to spend time interacting with friends and family. "Screen-Free Week" is an annual effort by children's advocates to pry kids away from TV and video games, however briefly.
Dr. Susan Linn heads the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. When her group began hosting what was originally called "TV Turnoff" three years ago, she said, they changed the name because TV is not the only "bad guy."
"It's not even that screens are necessarily 'bad guys,' except for babies," Linn explained, "but it's just that there's too much of them in our lives and way too much of them in children's lives, and it's important to take a break."
When the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 have no screen time, what's a modern parent to do? Cheryl Wright, associate professor, Dept. of Family and Consumer Studies, University of Utah, explained the reason for the concern.
"The research supports the fact that kids who spend too much screen time have some developmental delays," she warned. "It can be quite engaging - but it can have some consequences to it."
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood cites studies that show on average, some preschoolers spend 32 hours a week in front of screens.
Wright said parents and caregivers who are not sure how to keep kids occupied without movies and videogames should think about satisfying their senses - whether it's at a park, a museum or cooking a meal together.
"Technology hasn't advanced so much that it's all-sensory - you can't smell technology, you can't taste technology, you can't really feel technology," Wright said. "Sensory experiences are real important for brain development."
Adults, too, are encouraged to take the Screen-Free Week pledge to swear off TV and DVDs for a week and only use that laptop or smart phone when it is required for work. Of course, they will have to look online to get the pledge - but then they should step away from the screen until May 5.
More information is online at www.commercialfreechildhood.org.