Screen-free Week: Tips for Success and Celebration

By Adrienne Principe and Dr. Lela Jacobsohn of Turning Life On

Every year, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood celebrates Screen-free Week during the first week in May. The ultimate goal of Screen-free Week is to be, of course, “screen-free.” Yet, in a pandemic world, simply reducing screen time is still a big win. Screen-free Week is a celebration — of the exciting and interesting world that we often ignore in favor of screens and the importance of being intentional with how we spend our time, both online and offline. It can also mark the beginning of a journey to be more present with ourselves, our families and our world (particularly if being completely “screen-free” is not realistic right now).

We kick off this journey by building a foundation for long-term change — by not just limiting screen time but also renewing our focus on offline (a.k.a. real world) engagement. Think of it as two strands of action woven together that will create lasting improvements in your relationships with the people and world around you and with your screen.

Every good journey requires preparation and supplies. We have you covered:

Preparation: Be aware, raise your consciousness

Identify your individual and family’s values, hobbies and interests. Do you value nature, storytelling, cooking, game time? What brings you together as a family? What gives you joy or makes you feel alive? How much time do you currently spend on these both individually and as a family?

Being aware of what you value and what brings you happiness will prepare you to make more fulfilling choices when faced with free time, boredom or discomfort. You will also better enjoy the time you spend in the offline world and, ultimately, optimize your health.

Strategies for being intentional about how you spend your time

Armor yourself with a treasure box. Create a long list of ways to honor your values and hobbies off the screen. Take a hike, read a book together, try a new recipe, play a board game. Think of these as your treasure box of screen time alternatives, or real life gems. (Need more ideas? Check out this list).

Use your treasure box as armor against the screen’s magnetic pull. If you experience a trigger calling you to the screen, if your hand is in your pocket pulling out your phone, if you are about to click on the TV for the kiddos, use your raised awareness and notice it! At this very moment, break out your armor and head for the treasure box. Pick an off-screen alternative that will make you happy, engaged, or otherwise occupied. If that one does not do the job, reach back in the treasure box and try another! Repeat, repeat, repeat for each trigger or pull to the screen.

Reduce temptations and triggers. If you notice a particular app hijacks your intention to be present, do at least one thing to reduce the distraction: turn off notifications, delete the app from your phone or put your device on silent. You can also set an intention to engage with your device when it does not interfere with the here and now. For example, 10 minutes at your lunch break to look at Facebook.

Separate physically. It is hard to avoid chocolate if it is sitting in a bowl on the kitchen table. It is much easier to eat healthy foods if we fill our homes with fruits and veggies. The same is true for our screens. Separate physically by stowing remotes in a drawer, putting devices out of sight and turning phones to airplane mode while your family pays attention to each other, participates in offline activities, and experiences fulfillment in the real world. Feeling brave? Shut down your wifi for a couple hours. D not forget to fill your home with books, games, puzzles, whatever you have identified, so you are more likely to reach for an offline activity rather than a screen.

Do it with company, do not go it alone. Screen-free Week is the perfect time to engage healthy screen alternatives together — as a family, with friends, or as a community. Research tells us that changing behavior is easier done when you have the support of others. Reach out to some of your favorite people to make screen-reduction goals and, when possible (given geography and COVID), real-life plans together.

Create a challenge. Use screen-free week to kick off your efforts and consider making a fun challenge for your family and for yourself. For hikers, how many new trails can you explore this week? This month? How many stories can you read together? How many miles can you run or bike? Can you invent a new board game? Can you build a tower with recycled materials? How high?

Similarly, give yourself challenges to accomplish in your screen reduction. How many times can you avoid opening Instagram or Facebook whenever you are bored? Can you remove apps that steal your attention? How many? Most simply, can you reduce your daily and weekly screen time as recorded on your device? Track your progress, and consider any and all reductions a win. Baby steps count and can add up!

Most Importantly, Reflect and Celebrate

This is what Screen-free Week is all about — the celebration! Take time to reflect on the feelings produced by your different activities. This will help you choose future ones that make you feel good! Here are some starter questions:

  • How do I feel when I take a break from screens? 
  • How do I feel when I honor and engage my values?
  • How do I feel when I redirect my behavior to something more valuable than attending to the screen?

For many, the reflection is the celebration. Often, it is the outcome of the activity that you have immersed yourself in screen-free — the amazing meal you created together, the beauty you saw on a hike, the exhilaration you felt on a bike ride, or the laughs you had while playing a game with your kids. Pause to take it all in.

If this does not sound like enough for you, turn to more tangible rewards for yourself and your family, like a bubble bath for mom, a celebration with confetti and cupcakes for the kids, a special take-out meal from your favorite restaurant, or $5 toward a new toy, book or board game.

We have just spent an entire year very dependent on screens for work, school, and socializing. As the cool weather turns warm, as restrictions start to lift, Screen-free Week is an excellent time to rethink our reliance on screens, approach our days with awareness, and engage with real life intentionally. Reflecting on the experiences and rewarding ourselves are great ways to start our journey toward a healthier relationship with screens. So what are you waiting for?

Adrienne Principe is the Founder of Turning Life On, a grassroots movement that consults with parents, teens, educators, professionals and communities to inspire and empower healthy digital choices.

Dr. Lela Jacobsohn serves as an advisor to Turning Life On and other youth-centered organizations and institutions. Specializing in public health communication, she focuses her consulting and advocacy efforts on improving the health of young people through behavioral, environmental, and institutional change.