Tough challenge — less screen time

I’ve been employed at a middle school long enough now that I know what it means to see a group of students (usually boys) huddled together in the cafeteria rather intently studying something held by one or maybe two of the guys.

No, it’s not baseball cards or cigarettes or girly pictures (the standards of earlier eras, perhaps), at least as far as I know. What they’re looking at is a hand-held screen on a smart phone or a video game with a screen.

Oh, girls do it, too, but from what I can tell it’s usually pictures on a cell phone. Just last week one of the seventh grade girls showed me a picture she had on her phone of her with the Iowa Cubs mascot.

So that’s why I was especially glad to learn that a few weeks back was Screen-Free Week. It’s a movement, sponsored by the Center for Screen Time Awareness, to get us all to turn off our screens and turn on life. Originally focused on television screens, now this week has been expanded to include all electronic digital media – like the hand-held devices that are everywhere. Of course, this includes our computer screens, too.

For this annual event, we are encouraged to turn off screens and turn on life. That means television screens, too, which would be a hard one for me. I very rarely sit and just watch a TV show, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that whatever room I’m in there is always a TV turned on. It’s noise. It keeps me company somehow. And at the right times of day, it keeps me up on the news. So that would be a hard part of a no screen week for me.

It sounds like it would be difficult for most of us, if the statistics I found are accurate. Some 99 percent of American households have at least one television, and two-thirds of our homes have at least three televisions. The source I consulted reported that the time a television is on in the average U.S. home every day is 6.75 hours. I’d have to stay home more than I do now to reach that level, and I think it’s one time I’m glad to be below average.

The numbers get even scarier for children, who on average watch 1,680 minutes of television per week. While the average American youth spends 900 hours per year in school, he spends 1,500 hours per year in front of the television screen.

So, even though I don’t have children in the house any longer and I don’t watch lots of TV myself, it’s such statistics that make me think we could use a no-screen week that runs much longer than a week.