In this post-COVID world, we have more reasons than ever to be thankful for technology. Even as we have engaged in social distancing, we have been able to maintain communication with those who matter most. Our children have been able to videochat their grandparents. We’ve had family movie nights. We’ve streamed music and had dance parties in the kitchen. There is nothing wrong with allowing technology a place in our homes.
However, a growing number of experts are voicing their concern about the negative effects of too much screen time for our children. Last year, the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under the age of eighteen months have no screen time at all. Their suggestion for middle schoolers was to keep screen time under two hours a day.
The WHO urges parents and caregivers to encourage unstructured play and plenty of outdoor time as a healthier alternative. Unfortunately, many parents find that their children are glued to screens for substantially longer than the WHO’s recommendations. It can be hard to break these bad habits if our children are already attached to screens. Here are some ideas for encouraging less screen time and more outdoor play:
Limit Access to Screens
If you don’t want your kid reaching for a tablet or turning on the TV, don’t make the devices easily accessible. While most living rooms contain a television as a matter of course, break the status quo and keep yours in a closet. You can get it out for family movie nights, but the rest of the time it is out of temptation’s way. You could also keep tablets and phones in a public area or locked up except for designated times. If the screens are not readily available to use, your child will be forced to find something else to do.
Set a Timer for Screen Time
Children thrive under clear guidelines. Instead of giving your kids a tablet to play with until they grow bored, set a timer and enforce a screen time limit. They may use their screen time more intentionally if they understand that they only have half an hour to do what they wish. Then, there will be no surprises when it is time to put the device away.
Although there may be some whining and pleas for “five more minutes” when you first implement this rule, they will start to know what to expect. If they know they can only be on the tablet for a half hour every morning at ten, then they can spend the rest of their day doing other activities and not begging you for their device.
Choose Their First Phone Wisely
Of course, there comes a time when you need to give your kids their own phone. As they enter into their teen years, there will be times when they need to call you while they are with their friends. They also want to be able to communicate with their peers from home. Thankfully, you can choose a phone for kids that restricts their access to social media and internet browsing. They won’t have access to dangerous web content or hours of mindless scrolling. These limitations can encourage a healthy relationship with technology as your children become more independent.
Lead By Example
If you want your kids to get off their device and go outside, lead the way. Leave your phone inside and sit outside with a book. Take a family walk. Go camping. Visit nearby hiking trails or swimming pools. You must take the first steps in creating the culture you want to cultivate in your family. If your children see you scrolling through Instagram for an hour at a time, they will have a hard time understanding when you urge them to go outside and play. Put down your phone and show them how it’s done.
Invest in Outdoor Toys and Gear
To encourage your kids to have fun outdoors, help them find something to do. Whether it’s a toddler pool for your young ones or rollerblades for your middle schoolers or a trampoline for the whole family, make being outside fun. Merely shooing them outside to an empty backyard is not going to inspire a love of the great outdoors. Give your kids more options for enjoyment outside than they could ever have on their devices. With a little creativity, the options are almost endless.
Take Inside Activities Outside
It turns out that a lot of the things your kids do inside could be done outside instead. Don’t be afraid to take their normal toys outside and see what kind of creative play happens. Encourage them to do their homework on the patio on nice days. Host family cookouts around a fire pit and eat dinner on a picnic blanket. Let them invite their friends over to swim or play ball or build snowmen, depending on the time of year. Teach them to live outside as much as possible, and soon their tablets will be left collecting dust.
Go on Adventures
Especially if you live in a more suburban area, outdoor time can sometimes feel a little stale. If your children only have a small, fenced yard in which to play, they may struggle with boredom and consequently revert to more screen time. When you can, take your kids on outdoor adventures outside of your neighborhood. Some ideas include trail rides, petting zoos, apple orchards, water parks, nature centers, theater in the park, and local farmers markets. Help show your kids all the fun to be had when they get off the couch and go outside.
Nurture a love of the outdoors and help your kids establish good habits, and soon their screen addictions will be a thing of the past. It can be intimidating to create new rhythms, but explain to your children that you want what is best for them. Show them that you also want to strive for better screen habits in your own life. Ask your kids to help keep you accountable as you work towards spending more time outside and off of your devices. If they see it as a joint effort, they may be more inclined to participate. Now turn off your phone and go play!