Voorheesville unplugged: A digital diet reset

To the Editor:

Voorheesville’s first Screen-Free Week was a success!

About 145 elementary-aged students and their families signed the “Screen-Free Pledge” and close to 1,200 tickets from all three schools in the district were entered into the amazing prize raffle drawings, all of which were donated. Thank you to all those who donated!

Several hundred participated in the variety of activities planned for the week most especially the Playground Family Fun Night and Unplugged Palooza.

Screen-Free Week’s ultimate goal was for personal connection to replace digital connection and, in many ways, this goal was beautifully achieved. A team of organizers, volunteers, donors, local organizations and businesses, and community-space providers all worked together to offer children and families fun and exciting activities and incentives so that they could plan to unplug from digital entertainment and spend all that free time in fun and creative ways.

Screen-Free Week, held from April 29 through May 5, is a national initiative sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The website for Screen-Free Week explains that it “is an annual invitation to play, explore, and rediscover the joys of life beyond ad-supported screens … .

“Even though it’s about turning off screens, Screen-Free Week isn’t about going without — it’s about what you can get! An hour once dedicated to YouTube becomes an hour spent outside; ten minutes wiled away on social media turn into ten minutes spent doodling; a movie on a rainy afternoon is replaced by time spent reading, chatting, or playing pretend!”

Screens are a digital necessity for the modern world and are a ubiquitous part of most of our lives. Screen-Free Week does not ask that we completely unplug, because this is impractical and unrealistic, but its mission stresses unplugging from screen entertainment in an effort to rediscover or discover for the first time other forms of screen-free entertainment that can be just as enjoyable and, oftentimes, are more beneficial to our physical and emotional health and overall well-being.

Technology and screens are an important tool that all of use to conduct business, stay informed, learn, and connect for our jobs and personal lives. Screens in and of themselves are not bad, but too much screen time, as numerous recent studies from reputable sources have concluded, can have deleterious physical and psychological consequences, especially for young people, who are particularly susceptible to the negative effects.

In her April 25 editorial titled “Balance screen time with the rest of what the world has to offer,” Melissa Hale-Spencer nicely cites several of the findings from these prominent and trusted sources.

Screen-Free Week is a way to pay attention to how much daily personal and screen time is actually used in an effort to become aware and perhaps make some changes to reset the “digital diet.” Healthy food nourishes and sustains us, but too much food or too much “unhealthy” food wreaks havoc on our bodies.

In the same way, too much screen-time can wreak havoc on our physical and emotional health and on our relationships. Creating a healthy balance of screen and non-screen activities is key.

What did we learn from Screen-Free Week? Through face-to-face conversations and a follow-up survey, we heard a lot of positive feedback from the community and from those who participated.

Many shared that they read more, played more, exercised more, spent more quality family time together, conversed and enjoyed spending time with other families, and became aware of how much time they spent on screens for entertainment and have decided to reset their personal and family screen limits.

Many said that they enjoyed finding other ways to entertain themselves rather than immediately going to the computer, TV, tablet, or smartphone, which they admitted is usually the “go to” choice. Most important, many rediscovered a world of creativity, engagement and fun without the use of a screen.

One of the most touching survey responses to the question, “What was one positive outcome of your participation in Screen-Free Week,” stated that “my daughter rediscovered her dolls.”

It takes a community to make an event like this happen. A special thank-you to the Voorheesville Public Library, Voorheesville Community & School Foundation, the three principals at the Voorheesville School District, the Voorheesville PTA, and the Alliance for Healthy Choices for supporting Screen-Free Week.

Thank you to The Altamont Enterprise for sharing the information with the public. In addition, thank you to St. Matthews Church, New Scotland Kiwanis, First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville, and Mountainview Church for organizing, hosting, and providing volunteers for some of the big family events.

We would like to add an extra shout-out to Jeff Vivenzio, Voorheesville Elementary School principal, for leading the Family Bike Ride on the rail trail. If we have forgotten anyone, please forgive our unintentional omission.

There has been a resurgence in mindfulness practices and in finding ways to build resilience in our children. Is this a response to our overuse of screens and overdependence on technology? Are we sacrificing the significance and beauty of a moment in time in an effort to capture it digitally for posterity and reshape it when it will not have as much value?

As a reflection about Screen-Free Week, one parent asked, “What ever happened to being in the moment?” Global spiritual leader, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, poignantly answers this question with his call to mindfulness: “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”

Screen-Free Week reminded us to forgo screens, to be attentive in the moment, and to connect in meaningful ways. The eventual goal is for this philosophy to be with us 365 days a year, not just the seven days of Screen-Free Week.

Gail Brown

Lori Storrow


Screen-Free Week


Editor’s note: Gail Brown is the manager of Youth and Family Services the Voorheesville Public Library. Lori Storrow is the mother of two Voorheesville students.

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