A week without screen devices for St. John's Lane Elementary students

They are taking part in TV-Turnoff Week

March 31, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

It is the time of year when families across the country commit to turning off screen devices for a week and engage in activities that they hope will keep the practice from being, well, a turn-off.

St. John's Lane Elementary School PTA is taking part, launching TV-Turnoff Week from April 3 to 9. Their efforts will be two weeks before national Screen Free Week, because St. John's Lane PTA parents sought to give youngsters a chance to use their televisions, computers, cellphones, iPods, video games and other devices during Howard County's spring break (April 16-25).

And the Ellicott City school is also referring to the practice by its original name because it's more familiar with Howard County students, as local schools have been taking part for years. Yet PTA member Caroline Bodziak, who is orchestrating the effort, said that when she began planning it last year, "I wondered if we should call it Digital Detox Week."

National Screen Free Week began as TV Turnoff Week in 1994, launched by the Center for Screen Time Awareness in Washington, D.C. It is now run by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. St. John's Lane is among many county schools that take part.

The PTA has circulated fliers listing many alternatives to using screen devices, including a guided nature hike at the Howard County Conservancy on April 3 and a St. John's Lane Elementary Family Zumba Night on April 4.

With electronic devices so intertwined with everyday life, the PTA says that the no-screen-device rule is waived for students during schoolwork and for adults during the workday. Parents say that they've begun preparing their children for TV Turn-Off Week well in advance, and despite some occasional reticence, the youngsters ultimately give in.

"My kids have been doing it since kindergarten, and they're in eighth grade now," said Laura Munns, St. John's Lane PTA president. "They are used to it because we've been doing it every year for a long time, but still, even though they know it's coming, the groans and moans [come].

"It truly is like a detox situation," Munns added. "The first couple of days they're miserable and fight it. By the third day they've forgotten and start to adapt to the new life without electronics."

The St. John's Lane PTA encourages students to sign a pledge stating that they will not use screen devices for the week and post the pledge in a prominent place in their home.

"We remind them that there is a bike in the garage," said Bodziak, who is St. John's Lane's health and wellness committee chair.

The program does not apply to screen use at school, but Bodziak said she sent letters to teachers asking them to possibly incorporate the effort in classroom settings. She said that all children who successfully complete TV-Turnoff Week can have their pledge forms returned to the school by their parents to receive a certificate from the General Assembly and a school charm.

Bodziak said that it's not easy for parents to give up screen devices either, but "it's something that the family should do together."

St. John's Lane fourth-grader Anna Froehlich suggested that her family take part. While staying away from the computer, Wii console and television, she said she would "work on my scrapbook, have my friends come over and play family games."

Anna's mother, Penny, said that the computer won't stay off entirely. "I can't function without it," she said, "but I will try to limit it to just the things we need to do on there."

Josh Golin, associate director for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said that the group encourages families to consider their screen use during the time the devices are shut off and then make permanent changes.

"The goal is not to prove you can do without it for seven days," Golin said, "but to examine your relationship with media and begin enjoying a happier and healthier lifestyle."


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