From cell phones to televisions, screens can feel like an inescapable part of life, but Hermiston families dodged the temptation for a few hours Thursday night.
A coalition of organizations hosted a celebration of National Screen-Free Week on the city’s festival street Thursday. Under a blue sky, parents and children wandered through stations where they could paint, arrange flowers, do yoga, sample healthy foods and more.
Gracie Littrell, 7, has learned the value of screen-free time well. She said she and her mom Jamie Littrell and brother Michael, 3, were downtown to “have some fun and also spend some time outside.”
“We always need to play outside,” she said. “It keeps our bodies healthy because we get fresh air and sunlight.”
Jamie said sometimes it’s hard to get the kids away from the family’s tablets or video games, but she has been working to teach them about the value of making time for other types of activities as well.
Limiting screen time to a healthy amount is one of the great struggles of modern parenting.
“In the summertime it’s easier because they like to play outside, but in the wintertime it’s harder,” said Misty Gutierrez, who was watching as her children put together a flower arrangement to take home. The booth was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and run by Sassafras Flowers staff.
Gutierrez said she appreciated that the community hosted a screen-free event each year.
“I like that it’s family-friendly, that everyone can come,” she said. “I also like that they actually teach the kids things.”
Elise Royer, 8, was looking through the free books available from Altrusa International. Her mom Melissa Royer said Elise had persuaded the family to come downtown after getting a flyer for the event from school.
Her kids Elise and Logan, she said, are “big readers.”
“I have a lot of books,” Elise added.
She ended up going with “Matilda” by Roald Dahl, on a recommendation from her dad Casey, who promised to read it to her.
Brian and Jeannie Thomas brought their children — Aurora, 6, Phoenix, 4, and Alphonse, 2 — downtown for the free bicycle helmets from Good Shepherd Health Care System. Once they got the helmets, they said, they planned to stick around and participate in some of the other activities.
Angie Treadwell, a founder of the Healthy Families Coalition and chair of the Children’s Health Committee, said she helped coordinate the event, but there was a long list of community organizations participating. She said the goal was to remind people to put down the screens and spend some time interacting as a family or as a community.
“We’re missing a lot of that,” she said. “These days, everyone is behind a screen.”
Even at the “screen-free” event, some people automatically pulled out phones to capture photos of the event or post to social media.
The event is part of a larger movement of National Screen-Free Week, held the first week in May. The movement focuses on “entertainment screens” like video games, television and scrolling through social media, not screens used for work or homework.
“Even though it’s about turning off screens, Screen-Free Week isn’t about going without – it’s about what you can get!,” screenfree.org states. “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!”
Many health organizations have warned that children’s still-developing brains can suffer ill effects from too much time in front of a screen, and that too much time on social media or watching television can also negatively affect adults’ physical and mental health.
Last month the World Health Organization released recommendations against any screen time for children under two, and against more than an hour a week for children between the ages of two and five. Those recommendations are similar to ones released by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016.