Dorothy Rosby
Contributing columnist
I haven’t told my husband yet, but I’ve made a unilateral decision. We’re going to observe Screen-Free Week April 29-May 5. I don’t normally approve of unilateral decisions in marriages, but I’m supporting this one, because I’m the one who made it.
Screen-Free Week is an international celebration when we swap digital entertainment for real life. I call it No Child Left on Their Behind Week. No adult either.
The average American household has 7.3 screens—tablets, PCs, smartphones and televisions. We’re a nation with more screens than people. And screens have some advantages over people, mainly remote controls and off buttons. The problem is, we don’t use the off buttons very much.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, children eight and younger average two and a quarter hours of screen time every day. Teenagers consume nearly nine hours. Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. Maybe that includes the time they spend helping adults with our screens.
And before you judge them, consider that adults spend more than eight and a half hours a day staring at screens. And almost five hours of that is spent watching TV and complaining that there’s nothing on.
When you watch too much television, you see things no one should ever see. And I’m not just talking about violence and vulgarity, though there’s plenty of that. I’m talking about…well…dumb stuff.
I once watched a man on television attempt to eat 50 chicken wings. He did a lot of chewing, licking his fingers and talking with his mouth full, all behavior I can watch at my own dinner table and without the commercials. He didn’t get all 50 down, though to his credit, he did eat a lot of wings. I know because I traded part of a precious Saturday afternoon to watch him do it. I could have been eating my own chicken wings.
There’s plenty of dumb stuff on other screens too. Just today, a Facebook friend posted photos of her birthday party including several shots of drunken behavior—her own. I hope her parents don’t see those. Or her kids.
And every time I open my newsfeed, I’m greeted with inane headlines like, This question will tell you if you’re a psychopath and Ice-T reveals he’s never eaten this food and the internet totally freaks out, proving what I’ve known all along: Some people have too much time on their hands and should come paint my house. Unless they’re psychopaths.
Oh, and by the way, it’s bagels. As of this writing, Ice-T has never eaten a bagel. Yes, I read the article, but just to save you the trouble.
I don’t spend eight and a half hours staring at screens and if I did I wouldn’t admit it. I’m sure you don’t either. But you may be worried about how the people in your life are going to spend the extra 60 hours they’ll have if your family participates in Screen-Free Week, not to mention the 12 to 15 hours they’ll save not looking for the remote.
They could go for walks, ride a bike—even clean the house. And if that doesn’t use all their extra time, they could come clean mine.
If they want entertainment, they could turn on the radio and stare at it for a really long time. I’m joking. But they could read. Then when you turn the television back on, they’ll be better at Jeopardy.
They point is, during Screen-Free Week, we could do things instead of watching other people do them. Instead of Dancing with the Stars, we could go dancing ourselves. Instead of watching This Old House, we could do our own home remodeling projects. And instead of watching Barefoot Contessa, we could go barefoot ourselves. Kidding! I mean instead of watching cooking shows, we could cook. Or go out to eat. But leave your phone at home.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book, I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact [email protected])