Reclaiming precious moments

Chico mom nurtures her kids’ imaginations by nixing their screen time

Coleman (left) and Sawyer Binyon engage in some creative play in their sandbox.

Coleman (left) and Sawyer Binyon engage in some creative play in their sandbox.

PHOTO Courtesy of anna binyon

Screen-free encouragement:
Go to to learn more about the work of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“I moved the TV into the cold garage,” said Anna Binyon, stay-at-home mother of two young boys, 6-year-old Coleman and 4-year-old Sawyer, and an avid no-screen advocate.

She explained that the family’s television, which has a built-in VCR, is used only for watching an occasional movie. It was moved about a year ago from its privileged, central position in the home and relegated to the less comfortable, less central garage area to discourage the family’s all-too-common habit of sitting in front of it, transfixed, for lengthy stretches of time.

Their computer met a similar fate this past Lent, when the family gave it up entirely.

“I realized that I had become this dependent ‘Google zombie,’” said Binyon, who explained that she had become immersed in such time-consuming Internet pursuits as “checking status updates and events on Facebook. I felt like I was more connected, but actually was spending less face-to-face time with people.”

Including her children.

“I would take photos [of my family], then I would have to post them to Facebook,” she said. “But I would have to edit them first—while the kids were waiting for me to play a game.”

All that screen time “was robbing me of time, of precious minutes that—when you add them up—is a ridiculous amount of time,” said Binyon during a recent interview that coincided with Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s Screen-Free Week, April 29-May 5.

Sawyer Binyon in his bedroom, reading a book.

Photo courtesy of anna binyon

Formerly known as “TV Turnoff Week” and “Digital Detox Week,” Screen-Free Week invited people from all over the United States and the world to “turn off TV, video and mobile games, and other screens they use for entertainment, and turn on the world around them!

“Think, read, play, daydream, explore nature, enjoy family and friends—do all this and so much more when you spend seven days unplugged,” as the CCFC website puts it. Screen-Free Week was a focused distillation of CCFC’s overall, year-round mission to “support parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing.”

Limiting the effect of marketing aimed at kids is not the only plus when it comes to “unplugging” them from televisions, computers, smart phones and video games. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics linked excessive television-watching (more than two hours a day) to obesity, irregular sleep patterns, behavioral problems, lowered academic performance, violent behavior, and reduced time for active and creative play (go to to read the article).

Now that screens have been banished at the Binyon household, Coleman and Sawyer spend their time doing “old-fashioned” things such as playing in their sandbox, swinging on the rope swing in their cherry tree, playing baseball with their father, going for family hikes and bike outings, reading books and writing letters to their grandparents, tinkling on the piano and building couch forts. Recently, they helped their parents build a chicken coop in the back yard.

The boys like to hang out together in their room listening to records on their Fisher-Price record player. “They buy records at the ‘treasure store’ [thrift store]—polka, classical, kids’ songs, a Christmas record in the middle of summer,” Binyon said, adding that the lack of screens allows her children to think more creatively and explore new ideas.

The family also has a well-used art-supply closet, stocked with paints, markers, crayons and so on. “My walls are covered with their artwork,” said Binyon, who is also the wife of Alec Binyon, the CN&R’s general manager.

She and her husband also provide their children the opportunity to help prepare easy-to-make meals, such as pizza: “We do a lot of ‘family pizza’—everybody can roll out their ball of dough and put toppings on their pizza.”

Binyon partially credits her mother, Ruth Ryan (who lives with the family), with helping her “to see the need [for the boys] to be able to entertain themselves. She told me, ‘If they don’t figure that out, they’re always going to look to you [to be told what to do].’”

Along those lines, the boys’ grandmother gave Coleman “a real toolbox with real tools. He will go outside with scrap wood and a hand drill, and build the ‘Lego factories’ that ‘make’ his Legos. …

“I’ve never heard my kids say, ‘I’m bored!’ Never,” said Binyon. “If you were to ask Coleman what ‘bored’ meant, I don’t think he would know. He would think you were referring to wood.”