Leave the Screen. Take the Book.

In 1994, a group called TV-Free America organized the first TV Turnoff Week, which called on families and individuals to “re-think the role of television, why we use it and how and what for.”

Nineteen years later, the campaign seems almost quaintly old-fashioned, with its anxiety about kids vegging out in front of the boob tube, watching “The Nanny.”

Today there are many more kinds of electronic media—arriving via computer and tablet, Roku and phone and all manner of i-gadgets—competing for the attention of kids (and their parents), so much so that the campaign is now called Screen-Free Week. Organized for the past couple of years by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Screen-Free Week—this year, April 29 to May 5—asks people to “turn off screens and on life,” in the words of CCFC: “Instead of relying on screens for entertainment, participants read, daydream, explore, enjoy nature, and enjoy spending time with family and friends.”

According to statistics compiled by CCFC, 40 percent of three-month-old babies regularly view some form of screen media, and 19 percent of kids under one year have a TV in their rooms (this despite a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids younger than two have no screen time). Preschoolers spend 32 hours a week in front of screen media, and the number climbs as they age.

And the more time they spend in front of screens, the more likely kids are to perform poorly in school, to have attention problems and to be obese. They’re also exposed to countless ads; according to CCFC, kids between the ages of 2 and 12 see 25,000 commercials a year on TV alone, and companies spend $17 billion a year marketing to kids.

“Regardless of whether they are consuming ‘good’ or ‘bad’ programming, it’s clear that screen media dominates the lives of far too many children, displacing all sorts of other activities that are integral to childhood,” CCFC says.

While CCFC serves as the home of Screen-Free Week, it urges families, libraries, schools and other groups to organize their own SFW events. (An organizers’ kit and other information can be found at http://www.screenfree.org.)

In the Valley, Amherst’s Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art starts celebrating SFW a day early with “Unplug and Have Fun!” on Sunday, April 28 at 1 p.m. The event, put on in conjunction with Random House Books, will feature presentations and book signings by children’s authors and illustrators Tad Hills, Chris Raschka, Bob Staake, and Dan Yaccarino; Jarrett J. Krosoczka of Northampton, whose books include the Punk Farm picture book series and the third-grader favorite Lunch Lady graphic novels, will emcee. For more information, go to http://www.carlemuseum.org.

Author: Maureen Turner 

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