Screen Free


A New York Times article was released this week. How did I find it? Our 23 year old Kindergarten teacher forwarded it to me from her iPhone. She only has the “essential apps” on her new iPhone….Facebook and the NYTimes. 🙂

I’ve read the article a couple of times now and have rewritten this blog post no less than 3 as I try to make sense of what this means for kids today.

The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“…except for the time in school” might be a little harsh as I’d bet most kids are on computers some how some way in most schools. Maybe not all the time, but come on, we have a lot of technology packed into schools these days. I’m sure they’re spending at least some of their time on the computers there as well.

The new study shows that kids between 8 – 18 are now spending close to 11 hours in front of screens. I’ll admit that’s a lot, but where do these habits start?

On a flight from Seattle to Tokyo. We're suppose to be sleeping
On a flight from Seattle to Tokyo. We're suppose to be sleeping.

We know that good, balanced habits, start when you’re young. Hence the reason that still to this day when I get home from school I have to change my clothes from my “school clothes” to my “not-school clothes”. That habit was drilled into me all growing up. You come home and before you go outside or go work on the farm you had to change your clothes. To this day, much to the laughter of my wife, I still have to. I’m not comfortable until I’ve changed out of my school clothes.

So I ask, who’s setting the habits for an 8 year old to spend 11 hours a day in front of a screen? I would expect screen time to increase just due in part to the fact there are more screens in our lives. But there’s a time as well for Legos and tag with neighborhood friends.

Where are the parents in these conversations? When did the TV…now at 4 1/2 hours a day….become the babysitter? Who’s fault is that? Parents? Employers? Or Kids themselves?

Contrary to popular wisdom, the heaviest media users reported spending a similar amount of time exercising as the light media users. Nonetheless, other studies have established a link between screen time and obesity.

Now that’s interesting! I think as screens continue to take over our lives we’ll see more of these habits. The Wii can be both a screen and a workout. My iPhone is my trainer, record keeper, and motivator. Does my workout time count as screen time as well? If so there’s very little time I’m not interacting with a screen. My books are on a screen, my guitar lyrics and chords, my workout routine, and my work. Is that a bad thing?

Maybe we need to start asking the question in these surveys that differentiates between “Active Screen Time” and “Non-Active Screen Time

Those that have a high “Non-Active Screen Time” I’m sure are those in a study that show a link to obesity. But what about those with a high “Active Screen Time”? Can I be healthy being in front of a screen 11 hours a day? Can I be healthy going to the gym where I run on a treadmill for an hour while watching TV?

One of the most interesting parts of this whole article is the look at the increased use of cell phones, mp3s, and laptop computers over the past 5 years.

Kaiser Family Foundation Study as reported in the nytimes on Jan. 20, 2010
Kaiser Family Foundation Study as reported in the nytimes on Jan. 20, 2010

Seeing that you can now get TV content on both your cell phone and your mp3 player might help explain the jump in TV content viewing. In fact everything on that list could be explained by the mainstream use of cell phones and mp3 players within this age group. No longer do you have to be at home inactive to watch a TV show. You can now be anywhere, doing anything, at anytime. A significant change sense the last survey in 2004.

If we’re going to continue to do studies that look at screen time, I think we need to start asking the questions is it active or inactive use of the screen/device?

The more I think about this the more I’m wondering about those numbers and this survey. But it’s time for me to get off the screen for a while and go workout…in a gym…with a TV on the wall….and an iPhone strapped to my arm.

I’m just getting back to things this morning after taking me week of Screen Free Time off. The first thing I did this morning was turn on my computer and start iTunes to download all the podcasts I missed last week. Interesting, I didn’t realize that was the first thing I would do until I did it. What does that say about communication and learning for me (I’m an auditory learner, BTW)? My hour bus ride is my podcast time and I missed it last week but did accomplish other tasks.

When I got to school I looked up last years post Back from Digital Darkness and reflected on what I wrote last year and how my experience was different last year compared to this year. Last year I wasn’t looking forward to the week, supporting my wife’s efforts at school as the elementary counselor was the reason.

This year I found myself looking forward to the week. Having an excuse not to get on the computer was very appealing. There are days I’m tired of being tied to technology. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff, but sometimes I’m just tired. It must be what baseball players look forward too during the All Star break. Just some time to take a couple days and not think about all of it….not have to be at a specific place at a specific time, or thinking…always thinking.

What I was most excited about I think was doing things that I continually put off in favor of or felt like I “had to” do.

So what did I accomplish last week:

Also my wife and I went bowling for the first time ever together and had some great walks around Shanghai just thinking and reflecting.

Why was this year different? I think I’ve come to understand that I do not need to be connected all the time, that the network is really good at holding information for me. I don’t have to be constantly connected to learn, I have the skills to go back and find out what I need to know. My network filters the best parts of the past week for me. Be it Twitter, RSS reader, podcasts, etc. I allow my network to tell me what I missed, from there I make a decision on what is important enough for me to go back and learn (What’s the skill here we need to be teaching?).

There is nothing that happened last week that is not there for me this week to learn.

There is nothing that happened last week that I can not search and find out about.

What I have come to understand is the web waits for you. It will hold the information for you until you are ready to learn it, ready to use it. It waits, paticiantly, always on, always gathering, catergorizing and remembering. I can take a week off because the web doesn’t.

I encourage everyone to take some time off. It doesn’t have to bee a week but two or three days in a row is a great experiment. It was funny listening to the elementary students who I think had an easier time with Screen Free week then their parents did. Many adults compained that they “just couldn’t” and others only did it from Monday to Friday claming the weekend doesn’t count. Why? Are we really that reliant on TVs and Computers during the weekend? What did people do on weekends before TV and computers?

I was on the computer during work hours, but only used it for work tasks (production time was amazing last week!) No Twitter, no personal e-mail, no RSS reader, etc.

When I left school at 3:30pm that was it, I would find other things to take my time and let the screens be.

Like last year, the cell phone was the one screen device that was allowed in our house. What does that say about that technology (no I don’t have an iPhone…just a plain old Nokia)?

So back to being connected, a book of ideas to write about, 682 things to read in my RSS Reader, and more songs to download to play on the guitar. 😉

Dear Thinking Stick Readers,

Well, it’s that time again. From April 21st- April 27th Jeff will be participating in the annual “Screen Free Week.” If you remember from last year’s post, this is Jeff’s ‘voluntary’ participation in taking control of the screens in his life by turning them off for seven days. For seven days, Jeff will only use screens (computers, televisions, iPods, etc) at work for necessary work tasks.

Last year, Jeff’s participation in Screen Free Week taught him something…the importance of time. Recognizing and reevaluating the time we spend with ‘screens’ is the focus of this week. Use this time to evaluate your own screen time and the priorities you have in your life. Take the seven day challenge with Jeff; be sure you are in control of your screen time and not the screen time controlling you! Take time to enjoy your family, your friends, and the world around you. Try some new hobbies, explore places that you’ve always been interested in, pick up that ‘real’ book you’ve been meaning to read. Take the time to just be.

Don’t worry, Jeff will be back in seven days. He will have had seven days to think, contemplate, and formulate loads of new ideas he will be anxious to share with you!

Good luck,

A Blogger’s Spouse


Screens & Very Yong Children

1. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to avoid television and other electronic media for children two years of age and under.–AAP statement, August 2, 1999

2. Overweight U.S. babies are more numerous since 1980, a study in the journal Obesity found, growing to 6% from 3% of those under 6 months old. Wall Street Journal 2006

3. Seventy percent of day-care centers use TV during a typical day.–Tashman, Billy, “Sorry Ernie, TV isn’t Teaching,” New York Times, Nov. 12, 1994

4. In a study of preschoolers (ages 1-4), a child’s risk of being overweight increased by six percent for every hour of television watched per day. If that child had a TV in his or her bedroom, the odds of being overweight jumped an additional thirty-one percent for every hour watched. Preschool children with TVs in their bedroom watched an additional 4.8 hours of TV or videos every week.–Dennison, et.al. 2002

5. Research now indicates that for every hour of television children watch each day, their risk of developing attention-related problems later increases by ten percent. For example, if a child watches three hours of television each day, the child would be thirty percent more likely to develop attention deficit disorder.–D. Christakis, Pediatrics, April 2004

6. One in four children under the age of two years has a TV in his or her bedroom.–Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children’s Digital Media Centers, 2003

7. The more TV preschoolers watch, the less well they do academically in the first grade; also, The more TV preschoolers watch, the less well-socialized they are in the first grade.–Burton, Sydney, James Calonico and Dennis McSeveney, “Effects of Preschool Television Watching on First-Grade Children,” Journal of Communication, Summer 1979

8. Children in households where the TV is on “always” or “most of the time” are less likely to read than are children in other homes. Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children’s Digital Media Centers, 2003

Children six and under spend an average of two hours a day using screen media, about the same amount of time they spend playing outside, and well over the amount they spend reading or being read to (39 minutes).–Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children’s Digital Media Centers, 2003