Possibility one of THE single most challenging and frustrating things for parents today is to find ways to “unplug” their children from the internet and multiple devices. For many parents, sometimes it seems as though mobile phones are an extension of their kid’s hands. Let’s face it, it’s that way for many adults too. Most kids today truly have no idea what life is like without being constantly hooked up to technology. To many parents, getting their children to lift their heads up from their phone seems to be a perpetually losing proposition.
Considering we are, after all, in the Digital Age, for the past few years just about everything in life has been happening on screen – from news and entertainment, to socializing and banking. The Covid19 pandemic, as we are all aware, has cemented screen time even more to our lives with learning and shopping becoming major online activities. We receive information today from every direction – from across town to around the world, in seconds flat. All too many people are living life around comments, tweets, retweets and likes and they are forgetting to look up from their screens. Even young children are snapping photos of every experience so often they are literally missing out on the actual experience. It’s no wonder. Kids are simply copying the behaviors they see all around them from adults who are also plugged in way too much.
How Much Screen Time it Too Much for Kids?
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) children younger than 2 years of age should be entirely discouraged from media use/screen time. They recommend that older children’s screen time should be limited to no more than two hours per day. Dedicated to the health of all children, the AAP and its website gives some background on computer gaming disorders in children and adolescents. Research shows that “Over 90% of children and teenagers in the United States now play video games, and they spend substantial amounts of time playing at that. The increasing prevalence of digital media has led to growing public concerns about potential detrimental effects, including the possibility that video game play may be “addicting.””
There is now a considerable body of research literature suggesting that some heavy users of video games indeed develop dysfunctional symptoms that can result in severe detrimental effects on functional and social areas of life. The AAP recommends that parents need to be directly involved with their child’s use of media and need to ensure that children have ample media-free time and access to non-gaming creative play opportunities. In other words, they recommend “unplugging your kids.”
The Mayo Clinic advises parents to monitor children’s screen time because it [screen time] is probably greater than realized and could be responsible for obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, less time for play and even violence.
Consequences of Too Much Screen Time for Children
TIME published an article in 2019, “Screen Time and Lasting Consequences For Young Children’s Brains” that details the negative effects to developmental, communications, language and problem solving abilities.
There is no doubt that when kids spend too much time on the internet there is a negative impact on attention span and social skills, to say the very least. In addition to other negative impacts growing children can be at serious risk to their education and potential future careers. If you’re noticing your child complains of headaches, eye strain, blurry eyes, foggy memory, sleep issues, short attention span, limited problem solving skills, it’s time to address the all important question: How do we stop kids from spending so much time connected to the internet?
The answer is it can be done if you develop some “standards” that you stick to. There may be a bit of “detox” time for some kids so implement changes slowly and deliberately.
Read on for helpful and constructive ideas to get your kids off of technology.
10 ‘Easy’ Steps to Help Your Child Unplug from Screens
#1. Spend Time Outdoors
Spend weekends outdoors and observe nature as much as possible. Try to identify birds and insects and compare them to pictures in actual books. Make it a habit to leave the phones and tablets indoors for an hour … or two … or three … if possible. Sit outside and talk. Breathe in the fresh air. Move around. Possibly one of the best and healthiest things you can do for your child is to instill a strong relationship with the outdoors from as young an age as possible.
#2. Play Sports
Play sports, just for fun. Toss a baseball around; kick a soccer ball to each other, play hoops or even just run around. If you have the yard space a badminton net can be great exercise and a lot of fun. Jump rope and sidewalk hop scotch are engaging, competitive and really good physical exercise and a lot of space isn’t necessary.
#3. Organize Craft Time
Organize craft time. There are dozens of great ideas of things to make — from the practical to the absurd – and you don’t have to spend time searching online for ideas. First, use your own imagination based on observation to come up with some ideas. Next, visit the library and look for craft books or make a game out of using your and your child’s imagination to develop a craft plan. Make a materials list and go to a store together to purchase items if needed. Ideas are all around if you tune in and look. Painted signs, terrariums, indoor herb gardens, and the list goes on and on.
#4. Road Trips
Go on a road trips, short or long … and play the good old license plate game, read the street signs. These are great exercises in learning local or distant geography and reading.
#5. Encourage Reading Books
Buy books, if possible, and encourage library visits. Encourage your child to read an actual book or magazine. Or, encourage your child to print reading material from their computer and read from the paper rather than from the screen. If possible, sit down together and allot 1/2 hour to read an actual book or magazine with your child and have a discussion about what is being read. Look for small book shops and charity book sales.
#6. No Screens in Bedroom
Initiate a household rule to keep screens out of the bedroom entirely. Developing a habit of bed time being quiet, sleep time and screen-free can lead to a healthy relationship with sleep. An important habit to stick to for adults and children alike is to avoid screen time entirely for at least an hour before bed.
#7. Establish Chore Time
Schedule chore time and assign tasks to be completed. These are activities that will get your children physically moving and instill a sense of responsibility and life skills. Pulling weeds in the spring, planting and watering in summer, raking leaves in the fall and shoveling snow in the winter are not only useful chores, but great exercise and count as two for one since they are outdoor activities. Bonus points!
#8. Daily Exercise Routine
Go for walks or bicycle rides. Nurturing a daily routine that includes these two activities may be the key to a lifetime of good health for your children. Simply walking for 15 minutes a day can be key to better mental health for kids and adults alike.
#9. Non-Gaming Play Time
Engage in “non-gaming creative play.” You may or may not remember ‘vintage’ board games: Monopoly? Operation? Encourage your child to socialize with other children and physically play games together. Games that encourage building things are great brain boosters. This is super beneficial in helping your children to develop social skills. It’s also a fun idea to have a family game night, perhaps in conjunction with family cooking night! (see #10) Puzzles, yo yo’s, card games are nostalgic and surprisingly entertaining for modern kids. Many of these “old fashioned games” are still available in stores and for sure can be found at vintage shops and tag sales. A great way to ease into them is to create a themed birthday party.
#10. Cook Together!
What better way to spend time with your child than creating life sustaining food? Cooking is a life skill and instilling the responsibility, and even better, passion, for preparing wholesome food is one of the best ways for your child to unplug. Of course, so many people are tuned into cooking shows online – but “old fashioned” recipe books are still easy to be found. And it would be perfectly OK to take a few minutes snap a photo of the meal you’ve created and post it on social media for some encouraging likes and emoji’s from friends.
Develop a routine of cooking together once a week, or at a regular time and rotate between breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert preparations. You may find that this becomes more of a regular habit than you anticipated.
Bonus Step: Talk to Your Children
Spend time in simple conversation. Talk about your day and ask questions about your child’s day. Share observations and bond over genuine concerns. Become an active listener and teach your child to do the same. Talk time can be very revealing and extremely constructive for your relationship, not to mention fun.
Be a Limited Screen Role Model for Your Children
The most important thing is to set an example for your children to develop a lifetime of healthy habits and a healthier relationship with screen time. It may not always seem like it, but kids do pay close attention to what adults do. Try to limit your own relationship with screen time and social media, not only for your own health and well-being but to be a better role model. TV and tablets are great resources and can be sources of good fun, but be sure to set healthy limits and stick to them. Allow 15 minutes to 1 hour of screen time per night. Encourage your child to spend their time on other activities that don’t include phones, tablets and TVs.
Helping Your Kids Unplug Improves Health & Development
Any time is a good time to show kids how to unplug from what’s on the screens. Step by step, start teaching kids how to unplug with small but do-able actionable plans! Being well-rounded individuals is still a good recipe for success.