Why our daughters need Screen-Free Week

Why our daughters need Screen-Free Week

According to a recent CDC report, teen girls* today are experiencing record high levels of violence, sadness, and suicide risk, across all racial and ethnic groups.

As the parent of one, this has me deeply concerned.

I know all these problems aren’t solely caused by screen-time (I’m looking at you, pandemic), but there’s no denying it’s a factor exacerbating the situation. 

As The American Psychiatric Association notes, “there is a growing consensus that the decline in [teen] mental health may be linked to the increasing popularity of smartphones and social media.”

This is particularly true for girls and young women who spend a lot of time on appearance-based social media sites (like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.) As this article in The Atlantic explains:

Social media—particularly Instagram… “subjects their physical appearance to the hard metrics of likes and comment counts—takes the worst parts of middle school and glossy women’s magazines and intensifies them.”

So, what if, for young women (and young men, who are also struggling), Screen-Free Week wasn’t just about family game night, but something more?

What if you reframed this one week break from screens instead as a radical act of survival and self-care?

What would that look like?

It would mean starting your Screen-Free Week planning today.

(And also widening your frame of reference for “teen girls”—these conversations are appropriate for your middle schoolers, too. Death by suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 10–14.)

Talk about it

Start by having a conversation with your teen(s) about the CDC findings. (Most teens I’ve talked to never heard about it.)

Ask them…

  • Does this data track with their own experience?
  • Does this track with what they see and hear among their friends?
  • Ask them to share more about their experience.
  • Give them space to let pain into the light and examine it openly and empathetically, without judgment.

If you find that your teen in crisis right now, skip the rest of this post and seek immediate help by calling 988 or their doctor.

Identify the worst offenders

If your teen(s) is NOT in immediate crisis, ask them if there is a particular app, platform, or social network they find most problematic (most will be able to identify it in a heartbeat.)

Rather than just responding with, “Let’s delete it now!” (because many of them will un-delete it later), work together to brainstorm a triage plan for it.

How can you help them mitigate the damage it’s doing today?

  • Can they turn off notifications?
  • Can they unfollow some toxic accounts or contacts?
  • Can they follow a bunch of new accounts that will bring some light and love into their feed?

Coach them on how to create a new normal within the platform itself.

Brainstorm a plan

Lastly, talk about how you and your teen(s) can work together to create a Screen-Free Week game plan to inoculate some of this pain with some radical self-care.

Radical self-care is about more than bubble baths, meditation crystals, and merely taking a break. It’s about make big, perhaps unpopluar shifts in your life to get unstuck and out of immediate danger. 

  • If Instagram makes them feel fat, how can you spend Screen-Free Week helping them feel beautiful again?
  • If they feel like they’re never measuring up online, could you spend the week doing a family gratitude practice?
  • If they’re finding it all too much, can you take the week to help them set up alternate communication channels between your teen(s) and their friends in other, less triggering platforms?

Basically, customize the Screen-Free Week “cure” so it matches the existing wound.

As Debra Houry, CDC’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director for Program and Science says,  

“High school should be a time for trailblazing, not trauma. Our kids need far more support to cope, hope, and thrive.”

That support starts with you. Let Screen-Free Week be your invitation to help your daughters(s) tackle the trauma and blaze a new trail. 

*The stats are even worse for teen girls who are Queer. More than half (52%) of LGBQ+ students recently experienced poor mental health and more than 1 in 5 (22%) attempted suicide in the past year.


Research says… unplug!

Research says… unplug!

 At Fairplay, we love Screen-Free Week for many reasons. Each year, we get stories from people around the globe about how unplugging, even just for one day, helped siblings get along better, connected people across communities, and boosted creativity.

We love hearing from people about their experiences, but what does research say about the benefits of taking time off screens?

The latest screen-free research

Last May, researchers from the University of Bath in the UK looked at the impact of taking a one week break from social media. They found that the levels of depression and anxiety dropped significantly when participants (age 18-72) took a break from popular platforms like TikTok, Instagram and SnapChat.

According to Bloomberg, the lead author Dr. Jeff Lambert said:

“Many of our participants reported positive effects from being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall. This suggests that even just a small break can have an impact.

With the growing mental health crisis, we know that immediate interventions are needed to improve mental health especially of young people. A new study published in February 2023 by the American Psychological Association, “validates what some parents have experienced when their teenagers cut back: They seem to feel better about themselves.”

Reducing their screen time by just 60 minutes a day for three weeks made a significant positive difference in young people’s sense of self. 

Unplugging also helps parents and kids build relationships. Researchers in Turkey actually studied Screen-Free Week and found that families who participated in Screen-Free Week realized:

  • It was important to be intentional about how they interact with their kids
  • That kids are happier when their families spend screen-free time with them

Following Screen-Free Week, families took the time to choose programs and digital games together and also set specific limits around screen time!

Screen-Free Week is a great chance to take stock of your screen hygiene and set new practices in motion! 

For more information on the effects of technology on our mental health, check out this video by Fairplay’s Screen Time Action Network

Thank you to Rachel Franz for this guest post. Rachel is Fairplay’s Education Director and former coordinator of Screen-Free Week.