In Defense of Screen-Free Week

by Edna Rienzi   |   March 25, 2016


From May 2 to May 8, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) will host its annual Screen-Free Week. The organization encourages families around the world to “unplug from digital entertainment and spend your free time playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, and connecting with family and friends.”

We at New Dream always look forward to this event with great excitement. In a world where 8- to 18-year-olds consume more than seven hours of screen media per day (almost the same amount of time most adults spend at work!), we believe that Screen-Free Week is an opportunity for families to kick-start new habits. It’s a week where we can focus on more of what matters in our lives—connecting with each other and our communities as well as spending time outdoors and enjoying nature.

Recently, though, we discovered that there has been some backlash against Screen-Free Week. An older Washington Post article popped up in several different places on my Facebook feed with the headline "Screen-Free Week No Longer Realistic – Or Desirable." In the article, the author describes the annual event as “quaint” and says “Forget the kids. I can’t imagine going without a screen during lunch, let alone a week.” She suggests that experts would do better to encourage moderation and a conscious use of media, and that going screen-free for an entire week is completely unrealistic.

Normally, I would be entirely on board with this suggestion. In fact, I write a personal blog—The (Mostly) Screen Free Life—about this very topic: being intentional about our technology. In that blog, I make it clear that I would never want to go totally screen-free. There’s too much great stuff on the Internet.

But I do think there’s incredible value in taking a week off from screen use to reflect on whether the technology in your life is serving you well. And to reflect on whether the technology that we allow our children to consume actually enhances their lives. Plus I know, for a fact, that going screen-free for a week is actually realistic.

How do I know this? Because it’s pretty much how I live my life every week. I don’t have a smartphone or tablet. I do have a laptop that I use for work. But most days, I try to shut down when I leave to pick up my kids from school. This means no apps. No texting. No selfies. No emails after dinner.

"...every time I’ve tried adding more screen time to my life, I've found that, for me, the costs...outweigh the benefits."

While initially I stumbled into this mostly screen-free lifestyle (you can read my story here), I wholeheartedly embrace it now. And, over the years, every time I’ve tried adding more screen time to my life, I've found that, for me, the costs—in terms of focus, presence, true connection—of carrying around a mini-computer in my pocket or purse outweigh the benefits.

I definitely don’t think my approach to technology is the only way. Or that everyone should go as extreme as I do when it comes to screen use. But I do think it’s worth trying for a week. And keep in mind that CCFC’s Screen-Free Week includes a big exception: screens are permitted for work and school assignments. So no need to take vacation for a week or play hooky to participate!

Even with my already-existing screen limits, I find that participating in Screen-Free Week every year still has a positive impact on my life. Instead of doing my online yoga class in the mornings, I make time to walk outside every day. Rather than hop on Facebook for the couple of minutes that I’m waiting for others to join a conference call, I’ll start a letter to a friend. Little things like this really improve the quality of my week. 

And, if you haven’t been making conscious decisions regarding your screen use in the past, Screen-Free Week is a wonderful time to observe how strong your and your family’s screen habits are and whether or not occasional unplugging could be beneficial. Think of it as a week designed to reset your screen habits.

If the thought of unplugging for a couple of hours—much less a week—scares you a little (or a lot!), New Dream has a free resource that I hope helps you jump-start the week: 5 Simple Steps to Reclaiming Your Weekend. I hope that these tips help you unplug, recharge, and connect to more of what matters in your life—and less of what doesn’t.

Edna Rienzi is Director of Programs at New Dream.