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. 

Make your own rules for Screen-Free Week

Make your own rules for Screen-Free Week

There are no rules for Screen-Free Week! Plan whatever works for your family, organization, or community. Not sure where to begin? Let these stories from past Screen-Free participants be your guide!

Heather Ristau’s Story

“I look forward to Screen-Free Week every year. As screens and technology become more prevalent in our lives every day, we have to make a conscious effort to put the phone down, close the laptop, and keep the TV off.

For my husband and I and our two girls (ages 9 and 6), Screen-Free Week gives us the extra push we need to reset our habits as we move into the warmer months. We are lucky in our community to have people who put together a lot of fun resources and activities for the week. Some they plan themselves and others they just help spread the word about.

We’ve done everything from scavenger hunts to stargazing with high powered telescopes. That was our favorite activity last year. We went to a local state park where an astronomy group had their telescopes set up. The girls especially loved seeing the craters on the moon and watching the bats swoop through the air all around us.

We spend a lot of time outside already, but Screen-Free Week helps us put down technology and get outside even more to try new things in our community or to just take extra time as a family to read books or play games. We love spreading the word about Screen-Free Week and encouraging other families to find and enjoy the peace that comes with being Screen-Free!”

Ten Ten Recreation’s Story

“We celebrate Screen-Free Week with contests and initiatives with our before and after school program kids.

Those who choose to participate take a pledge to remain screen-free during Screen-Free Week (other than for educational purposes). Parents report how many days their child stayed off of screens, and for each day, the child will receive a raffle ticket for a cool prize.

Also, to promote being active, we plan to have kids run sprints in their gymnasium this year. For every sprint kids do in a minute Ten Ten will donate $1 to a local charity as a group.”

    Jacquelyn Schwanz’s Story

    “Screen-Free Week is a yearly tradition and the cornerstone for the transition to screen free summer!

    We live in Michigan where winter is unpredictable but spring and summer are phenomenal.

    Screen free week is our kick off for the summer and from day one,  we strive to not have screen time until the frigid months.

    Our children are four and two, and neither have ever missed the movie nights or cartoon afternoons as we are having too much fun gardening, exploring our property, and rock hunting. We are looking forward to participating again this year and advocating for Screen-Free Week to turn into Screen-Free Year!!!”

    Thank you to Heather, Ten Ten Recreation, and Jacqueline for sharing your stories with us! If you’d like to participate in Screen-Free Week 2023, take the pledge today. Or, if you’d like to plan an event, please visit our resource library

    Calling All Reluctant Readers!

    Calling All Reluctant Readers!

    Screen-Free Week loves reading, so this year we’re making it even easier to pick up a book (or an e-reader… we don’t judge), May 1-7.

    Reading rocks!

    Research shows children who read (or are read to) have better scores on cognitive tests than those who spend more than one hour per day on screens. They also have better emerging literacy skills, more ability to use expressive language, and test higher on the ability to rapidly name objects!

    Sadly though, a study by the National Literacy Trust showed that in 2019 (BEFORE our screen-filled pandemic) only 26% of youth under 18 spent time each day reading—the lowest daily level recorded since the charity first surveyed children’s reading habits in 2005.

    We adults aren’t faring much better. Americans read for personal interest less than 16 minutes per day. (In comparison, we spend an average of two hours and 50 minutes watching television.)

    Screen-Free Week offers us an excellent opportunity to start changing these trends!

    Feeling pumped about the possibilities?

    Forget about scheduling every minute of your family’s Screen-Free week, get a big stack of books, and prepare to get cozy (indoors or out!) and get lost in a story instead! 

    To make space for more reading during your Screen-Free Week, check out these free resources:

    We’re looking for libraries

    Lastly, do you work for a library, know a local library, or love libraries? If so, we’d like your help in finding more libraries to celebrate Screen-Free Week with us this year.

    Here are three things you can do:

     Thanks for your help. Happy reading!


    Screen-Free Teen Roundtable

    Screen-Free Teen Roundtable

    Our 2023 Screen-Free Coordinator Jen Kane, recently sat down with three teenagers, ages 15-18, who have spent over a month screen-free during their summers to talk about that experience. The conversation is excerpted below.

    Jen: Can you tell me the pros and cons about having gone screen-free?

    Keely: When I did screen free [at a day camp] the phone was still there—in the room—but I wasn’t allowed to use it. That’s okay, but it’s even harder when you go somewhere where you’re not even remotely close to any devices. Thankfully, after a while you start to not think about it.

    Jen: So, do you think somebody needs to physically take away your device for you to be able to go screen free?

    Kaia: Yes. Sometimes I’ll be so bored, or I’m so sick of my phone, and I actually want to do something else. But then I’m still like, [mimes picking up phone] ‘what’s in this app?’

    Keely: I do that too.

    Ronnie: Sometimes I’m tired of being on my phone, so I’ll read a book. But I’ll still have my phone next to me. The minute it buzzes, I’m like, [mimes scrolling].

    Jen: Do you feel like you’re addicted to your phone?

    Kaia: For me personally, yeah. Even when I don’t want to be on it, I’m still on it. It’s the first thing I go to all the time, and I will get stressed out if I’m away from it for a long time.  

    Keely: Sometimes my timer goes off on YouTube, and says, “You spent four and a half hours on YouTube.” And I say, “yeah,” cancel the timer, and watch like, another three hours.

    Ronnie: I am a recovering Twitter addict. I’ve deleted it for, like, a week so many times. I always re-download it, even though I hate it. It makes me feel so bad that I’m so addicted to it.

    Jen: So how did you stop using Twitter in the past?

    Ronnie: It was very spur of the moment thing. There was one day where my timeline was so full of this one argument I thought was really stupid, and people were getting so aggressive over it. And I was just like, ‘why do I do this to myself?’ So, I deleted it.

    Kaia: That’s something I’ve done a lot too. I don’t have Twitter, but I’ve deleted TikTok so many times, because when I come back down to Earth, I’m like, ‘I’m not having fun. I don’t like this.’ It just makes me feel bad about myself. It makes me overly socially aware and anxious all the time. It makes you question your sense of self.

    That’s why I think it is an addiction. When I’m not on it, I’m like, ‘what a breath of fresh air!” Those constant boosts of serotonin in the moment creep up on you in a way that you don’t even realize that social media is the thing that’s making you so miserable.

    Jen: Is there anything in the real world that gives you that same high?

    Ronnie: Yeah. The Lord of the Rings. [everyone laughs because Ronnie really, really likes LOTR!]

    Jen: Okay, so what does it feel like when you go screen-free and eliminate all that noise in your life?

    Ronnie: I feel like I have a lot more time to do things. But sometimes I don’t know what to do. So, it’s like, ‘okay, I can read a book and I can journal.’ I can also have conversations about serious topics with friends and family that respect me, which is way different than Twitter.

    Keely: When I come back from a screen-free camp, I’ll sometimes catch up with people on my Instagram feed, text people, and watch reels. But that’s about it, unless it’s close friends. I don’t care about everything everybody posts every day.  

    Kaia: I journaled about this a lot, especially when I got back from [a screen-free] camp. When I’m really depressed or anxious it’s usually because of social media. Without that distraction it makes me think about myself a lot more. It’s almost like you forget how much fun your mind is when you’re constantly having this other stimulant. You forget what your own brain can do.

    Screen-Free week is for teens too! If your teen wants to participate this year, invite them to pledge to participate at The teens above aren’t going entirely screen-free on May 1, simply picking one problematic app from which to take a week-long break. Sounds like a great plan to us!


    Changing just one habit for Screen-Free Week

    Changing just one habit for Screen-Free Week

    The urge had become completely Pavlovian.

    Whenever I stopped at a red light while driving, I’d check my phone for messages. Stop at a red light, check for messages; stop; check. It was ingrained, unsafe, and annoyingly compelling and unstoppable. Even with my notifications off ’d keep my phone nearby, compulsively checking for no reason whatsoever.

    I should have known better, of course, given my professional work with Screen-Free Week 2018 and 2019 and the Screen Time Action Network. But even those of us deep in the fight for safe, humane tech for children rely on our digital tech to help us advance our mission and advocacy.

    That means we are no less prone to habituated tech habits and digital tech overuse (or unsafe use), especially considering that our tech devices are so deviously designed to feel impossible to put down.

    So in spring 2022, I asked myself: could I use Screen-Free Week this year to spark lasting change in my relationship with my own devices?

    For the two years I worked to promote Screen-Free Week, I urged families, schools, and communities to consider their past year of digital tech use as inspiration for how they’d celebrate the week, then use the week as inspiration for a changed relationship the rest of the year. But could one Screen-Free Week really make a difference in my own life?

    Let me quell the doubters and naysayers by saying that yes, it can be absolutely habit changing.

    Last Screen-Free Week I made that one simple resolution not to check my phone at red lights. That was it. I kept my phone in my purse and kept the purse zipped and inaccessible. It wasn’t easy, but I knew that putting temptation out of reach is an important habit-changing tool.

    After one week of a severed “red light-check phone” connection thanks to Screen-Free Week, the urge had begun to lift. I decided to continue the practice as I didn’t want to give up on my progress.

    Months later, I’ve stuck to this new habit. If I feel strongly that I need to check my phone (like when I’m waiting for an important message), I will pull to the side of the road and check. I also keep a pad of paper and pen near me to jot down ideas that pop into my mind (yes, I do this at red lights, but it is not an ingrained, habituated response, so I allow myself this traffic light indulgence).

    I can check my phone before I begin a drive and after I’ve parked at the end, but not during the drive itself. I replaced one terrible tech habit with a digital wellness practice that fosters mindfulness and allows me to enjoy the journey more.

    So yes, Screen-Free Week is about a week of gratitude, fun, and community. But I’m serious when I say that if you’re lucky, it may rock your year as well!

    Rinny Yourman, Esq., digital wellness educator, parent educator, blogger, and mom to two teens, volunteered and has worked with Screen-Free Week and the Screen Time Action Network at Fairplay since 2018.


    A Parent’s Perspective on Screen-Free Week

    A Parent’s Perspective on Screen-Free Week

    As much as we’d love to think our role as parents is to protect our kids from screen time, chances are we might need some protecting, too!

    Even the most tech-savvy of us can be sucked into our devices, (SPOILER ALERT! They were designed to do that.) It doesn’t help that our work and personal lives increasingly intersect online and work/life balance has become less of a goal and more of a fairy tale.

    Screen-Free Week can help parents and caregivers, too, as the following guest post from past participant Amanda Gilbert explains.

    Screen Free week is always a great reset for our family. It helps us prioritize what really matters. 

    In our family, it is probably most beneficial for Mom and Dad. With our phones—that can do so much more than simply contact people—constantly on us, it is so easy to be sucked into the screen. Social media, shopping, movies and more grab our attention so readily. 

    During Screen-Free Week my husband and I commit to using our phones as phones only. We call and text with them, but no Facebook, Tiktok, or other media. I even try to go to the computer for email during that week so my phone is just a phone. 

    Every year this leads us to realize just how much we use our phones for media. We realize how often our heads are down and not focused on our children. We pledge to do better and we do better for a while, but then life catches up and we slip into old habits. Screen-Free Week gives us a chance to reset every year.  

    For the kids, it’s not too challenging. During the year, they only watch an hour of shows a day and occasional weekend tablet use. But they whine the first day and plead the second. By day three they are ready to find new things to replace show time. 

    Last year we built a fort, read lots more books, and played outside more. The kids became excited to come up with their own activities to replace our typical screen time. I’m looking forward to seeing what creative ideas they come up with this year in lieu of screen time!

    Thanks for your story, Amanda!

    Amanda’s thoughts are part of our “Share Your Screen-Free Story” campaign. If you’ve participated in Screen-Free week in the past and want to share your insights, please contact

    We’ll take your story however you’d like to share it—write it out, create a poem, sing a song, film a video, share art inspired by the experience. The choice is yours!

    Photo courtesy of Luemen Rutkowski via Unplash