Does this sound familiar? You walk into the living room or den on a bright, sunny day only to find several heads bent down and staring into a little glowing screen? If you think about how much time your kids are spending with their tech, instead of outside getting fresh air and vitamin D from the sunshine, you might be worried. And you would have good reason to be.
The American Academy of Pediatrics was worried too, so much so that they have stated guidelines about screen time for kids, with no screen time under the age of 2 and limited screen time of 1 hour for preschoolers. For older children, the goal is to ensure that they aren’t limiting other activities like playing with friends or going outside, in favor of screen time. It’s all about balance, as they get older.
For many parents, it’s difficult to get their kids off their tech without triggering a meltdown, but by standing your ground on this issue, you can provide real and tangible health benefits for your kids.
What are the effects of too much screen time?
Physically, everything from strained eyesight, headaches and sleep deprivation to obesity from a combination of being more sedentary as well as bad eating habits that stem from a snacking style of dining, with anxiety, aggression, and other mental health issues mixed in.
Kids also regress in terms of their interpersonal skills, like playing with others nicely, building social relationships, using judgment, critical thinking and so on.
Everyone can agree that none of these are positive results, so the question is: what can you do to stem the tide of screen use?
Set clear rules
What those look like are up to you. Kids at different ages and stages are going to use screens for different reasons. While there is a difference between using a computer for school work and mindlessly watching videos on YouTube, the summer—when school is out—is a great time to establish new habits.
Discuss the plan with your family and then write out clear rules and times about screen use. If your kids haven’t been given limits in the past, this will come with a fair amount of whining but it’s worth the pain to see them go outside and kick a ball around instead.
Rules can include:
- Chores that need to be done BEFORE any screen time is allowed.
- Daily limits on the amount of time spent on tech.
- Rules around when tech can be used and when it can’t. Example? No tech at mealtimes or in bedrooms after bedtime. Everything gets plugged in downstairs before bed!
- Make one day a week screen-free… for everyone, yourself included!
You’ll have to enforce these rules by any means necessary, including using parental controls on the video gaming devices, but the goal is not just to set limits and be hard about it. The goal is to teach your kids about responsible device usage. Down the road, when they’re older, they are going to be surrounded by screens. If they have a solid foundation in other interests, sports, games, and activities, they’ll eschew the screen at least part of the time. You will be able to rest easy, knowing you’ve done your job!
Model the behavior you want to see
It feels hypocritical to say to a child: you can’t use tech today and then you spend hours on your phone answering emails or whatnot. Sure, you might have legitimate work reasons for being on your tech, but kids will do what we do before they do what we say. If you want your kids to spend less time on tech, even if you still need to be on yours, discuss it with them. And make every effort to have times in the day when you put your phone away and are completely present with them.
Encourage tech-free activities
Playing games outside, going for a hike or taking the kids to the park with a football are all great way to start to move them away from their tech obsessions. Being out in nature is a natural way to reset the brain and get away from the digital stimulation that screens cause. The brain reacts completely differently to outside, physical play, in a good way.
A great way to get the ball rolling on this—no pun intended—is to make a certain day, or evening, of the week screen-free for everyone. You’ll be surprised how even older children will come out of their rooms and be willing to play a rousing game of neighborhood capture the flag or hide and seek. Ultimately, kids are looking for a connection with their parents. They do, despite evidence to the contrary, want to spend time with you, when you are present and with them, not staring at your own device.
Games that are workable for all ages, that get everyone moving and having fun, away from their screens, are the perfect opportunity to unite the whole family, from little ones to Grandma, and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Finding times and ways to do this with your kids, is the key to teaching them about balance, which they’ll need when they’re older and making decisions for themselves about their use of technology.