As parents, we all want our kids to be happy, productive, healthy, and active. Yet for many families, when it comes to getting kids off their screens and playing outdoors, the struggle is real. You’d think it wouldn’t be so challenging, since playtime is supposed to be fun! But it seems that when kids get into the habit of spending too much time on TV, apps, social media, and video games, they seem more reluctant to play without a screen.
Too much access can pose significant risks:
Physical Health – excessive device use is linked to significantly increased anxiety, sleep issues, eating disorders, and long-lasting posture issues.
Emotional Health – social media and gaming are directly linked to a decrease in self-worth and confidence; while linking to increases in isolation, depression, anxiety, and jealousy
Compulsive Behavior – needing to post content, view content, check status updates, aimless trolling, and stalking profiles.
Social and Functional Impairment – coping skills, having quality conversations, in-person interactions, and interpreting social cues are compromised.
Not all screen time is bad since with the proper guidance it can have benefits: connection with family and friends across long distances, keeping informed of school activities and tolerance of new ideas and experiences. Being a parent in a digital world isn’t so easy and does add more complexity but it can be managed. Every child is unique, and every family situation is different.
“Guilt about technology is such a useless emotion because it just paralyzes us and makes us feel like we’re not doing a good job.” – Dr. Jenny Radesky, Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician
1. Set up a schedule that you can stick to!
Talk to your child and work together on creating boundaries around screen time. Block off time during the day when screens are not permitted, such as at mealtimes and bed time, and ensure your child has plenty of time for other activities they enjoy. Set your kids up for success with the schedule. Ask questions like: Are there certain times of day when you prefer to watch movies or play games? What do you like to do best on your devices? When do you think is the best times to eliminate screen-time?
The goal is to teach your child to be more mindful of their choices around screens, and empower them with the tools to make good decisions. Set your child up for success by creating a schedule together that allows them to know when they can switch on their devices, and when they should play outside or do other activities.
2. Be A Role Model
Parents can persist or try to reason with children to get off television, devices, and laptops, but the truth is that while your kids may not always listen to what you say, they are always watching what you do. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work for kids. Let your kids see your face and not the back of a device. The first step in this process is to check your own use of screen time. If you notice you’re spending more time than you should on screens, let your children see how you handle this. Explain to them the changes you are making to find balance in your own life.
3. Encourage Your Kids To Do What They Love
Physical activity is so much more enjoyable when you do what you love. Encourage children to participate in the outdoor activities they enjoy, like, going for a bike ride, hiking, skateboarding, or swimming. They can also learn to enjoy a new sport like fencing, playing a round of golf or water skiing. Once they’ve put those devices down, it’s time for some serious fun! This helps them really develop a healthy and positive connection to exercise. They’re more likely to make physically active play a regular part of their day as a result.
4. Use A Positive Approach
Resist the urge to take away devices as a punishment or reward. Dangling the prospect of screen time to get your kids outside and active may reinforce the idea that playing outside isn’t as enjoyable as playing with screens. Give children clear and honest rules about how they can use devices. Introduce screen time as something to enjoy in moderation—just one of many activities that are part of the day.
5. Join in the fun
Leave your phone aside and join your kids in the fun! Playing together is a great way to bond with your children and it creates lifelong, happy memories. Spending time as a family will also encourage everyone to be more active at home.
Parenting still takes guidance, controls, discipline, and leading-by-example. There cannot be a single list of do’s and don’ts as every family situation is different. At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to screen time and encouraging physical activity. It may take time to find what works best for you and your family, but it’s definitely time well-spent.