Most of us parents today acknowledge that our kids and teens are spending way too much time on their screens (phones, tablets, computers, video games, TV…). But, it’s so hard to actually do something about it when your kids are being good and quiet and watching a video, playing a game on their tablet or texting friends on their phones. It’s all too easy for us to let them stay on their devices while we actually get a room cleaned, pay the bills or pour another cup or coffee and enjoy a few more minutes of peace. But with the American Heart Association now warning parents to reduce screen time for kids and teens to a maximum of two hours a day, we must make a change. Two hours…that’s a drastic difference from the average of seven plus hours that research shows kids ages 8 to 18 are currently spending on screens.
As parents, we must wake up and realize that kids that consume too much screen time are at a higher risk for obesity, have lower grades and even have poorer sleep quality. And, while we can recognize that technology isn’t all bad, we still need to step in, limit screen time and teach our kids to use it in healthy ways. We need simple steps to make a change and encourage our children to spend more time incorporating healthier activities in their lives like playing outdoor games, participating in sports, reading real books, getting exercise, and being social and interactive with other people instead of being alone with their tech device. These few simple steps can help you open the conversation about screen time with your kids and make a change for the better.
First of all, talk to your children about balance in their lives. Not just once or twice, but an ongoing dialog where they can contribute their thoughts instead of you just telling them right and wrong. Let them know that balance in everything they do is important for their growing bodies and their growing minds. That is why we make time to play, hang out with friends, participate in sports, study, eat and sleep. They should know that technology is a great way to learn, connect and create and that you want them to use it to their advantage and not to their disadvantage. Discuss alternate activities that they like to do such as sports, friends, baking, reading and the benefits that they get from each of these compared to their phones or tablets. Post articles on your refrigerator about the advantages of playing outside and getting exercise. This constant positive reinforcement will create a lifetime of healthy thinking.
Sit down with your child and create a balanced schedule for their free time. For younger children, start by making a free-time schedule with pictures that shows a time for active play, a time for reading, a time for outdoors, a time for chores and a time for video. That way they can see the balance. No age is too young to start a conversation about the importance of being healthy and what a difference it makes in your life. Let older kids and teens be involved in making their own schedule. The more you plan with them, the more they will feel like they are in control of their lives. Stress the importance of getting schoolwork and chores done first and then dividing their free time into a balance of the things they enjoy – sports, art, socializing, and then screen time.
Choose rooms or specific times in your house that are screen free – for example, no screens at the dinner table. This not only disrupts family bonding, but also makes it difficult to focus on the amount of food you consume and may lead to overeating. Many families choose to make bedrooms free from any phones, tablets, TVs and computers. That way, kids can’t disappear for hours on end into their rooms with their devices. Not only does screen time generate excitement from staying up late and being on devices, but electronic screens also emit a “blue light” glow that stimulates their brains and suppresses the production of melatonin preventing kids from feeling sleepy. Instead, encourage your child to use screens in common areas where you are around to monitor usage. For example, if they are in the family room or kitchen, then you are nearby to ensure that they are not on inappropriate games or websites.
One of the most important things that parents should remember is what they do is equal to or more valuable than what they say. Practice healthy screen usage and cut down on your own devices while you are with them. Don’t constantly check emails, turn on the TV, and check your phone at stoplights. Be fully present when you are with your kids. Put down your phone, play with them, listen to them and be engaged. Think of some family fun, device-free activities that you all enjoy and post a list of ideas on your fridge. Ride bikes together, go to the park or library, or plan a family game night with board games. When they see you enjoying these activities, they will pick up on it and do the same.
Think about what non-screen activities that your kids really like doing and expand on them. If you child enjoys art, then sign them up for some classes or buy them some new paints. If they like sports, then set up that a soccer goal or take them to a game. Or, if they love to be social, find some fun options that they can play outside with friends. Starlux Games offers great ways to be outside, active and socially interactive. CAPTURE THE FLAG REDUX from Starlux is the classic Capture the Flag game revolutionized for today’s generation using glow-in-the-dark LED lights. Kids will love the glowing nighttime excitement and parents will love the fact that their kids are outdoors, unplugged and moving. Also from Starlux, GLOW BATTLE is a an active glow-in-the-dark battle game that is a wonderful way to get some energy out of your kids once the sun goes down and is way more fun than staring at a screen. Both are available at https://www.starluxgames.com.
The statistics are staggering. Only one out of every three children in the U.S. spends time being physically active each day.
Less that fifty percent of the time that kids spend in P.E. class or sports practice involves enough activity to be considered exercise.
And, children and teens spend an average of seven or more hours on screens and electronic devices each day (Reference: 11 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Be Physically Active).
The disheartening results of all of this is that about one out of every three children in the U.S. is overweight, and further studies show that being overweight as a teen leads to a seventy percent chance of kids becoming overweight as adults. How can we stop this epidemic and encourage our kids to become active? Here are a few easy tips to get your kids and teens moving more.
There is no end to the benefits of physical activity for kids and teens. It builds strong bones and muscles, helps maintain healthy weight, develops coordination, improves strength and endurance, plus it promotes emotional well-being.
But kids can get bored with the same type of activity every day. It’s up to you as the parent, to offer them a variety of choices that are age-appropriate and fun.
It is recommended that children ages six and older get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. These can be all types of exercise from moderate to vigorous.
While it’s good to engage in activity that kids are familiar and comfortable with, it’s also good to introduce new forms of exercise that they don’t do as often to give them fresh options. These can include dancing, paddle boarding, rock climbing, hiking, rollerblading, tennis, jumping rope or ice skating. Your child just might find a new activity that they love and want to do every day. For a list of more fun physical activities, check out the book, 303 Kid-Approved Exercises and Active Games from SmartFun Activity Books (available on amazon). The whole goal of this book is to motivate kids to exercise in a fun way that helps them feel good.
Adding sixty minutes of exercise every day might seem a bit overwhelming for kids, but it doesn’t have to be done all at once for it to be beneficial.
You can break down the 60 minutes into shorter blocks of time throughout the day to fit it in and to keep your child’s interest. For example, start your day with 10 minutes of brisk walking to school or the bus stop, come home from school and let your kids jump on the trampoline for another 20 minutes. Then, take them to soccer practice for 30 minutes. And, if your child is active on the playground at school, that counts, too.
These short blocks throughout the day all add up to 60 minutes of physical activity. If your child is not regularly active now, start slowly and build from there. One great way to keep track of your child’s activity is with a fitness tracker like the Garmin Vivofit Jr. (available on amazon). It comes in a variety of fun designs with a comfortable band that kids can slip on and off. Kids can wear it everywhere from the playground to the pool and from a bike ride to the backyard to help them keep track of their activity level.
Not every child is interested in playing an organized sport such as basketball or soccer. And, if you child is no longer having fun on a team or with a sport, it’s probably time to explore other options. So, think outside the court and look for other non-organized activities that your child might enjoy.
Some kids might not be into playing on a team, but they might love rock climbing or hiking. Maybe they don’t want to have to go to a practice every night, but they may want to have a dance party in the basement daily.
Keep trying new things and be patient until they find some things that they really love. That will help them find the start of a lifetime love of physical activity. One great idea for backyard warriors is the Backyard Ninja Line Hanging Obstacle Course for Kids (available on amazon). It includes a 40-foot slackline kit with monkey bars, gym rings and tree protectors that is perfect American Ninja Warrior training for kids. You can customize your own slackline course to make it as hard or easy as you want by placing the monkey bars and gymnastics rings in any order and any distance apart. It holds up to 250 pounds.
The best way to encourage your kids to get active is to not only be a good role model when it comes to physical activity, but also join in with them on their exercise endeavors. You’ll not only get to spend valuable time together, but also stay healthier in the process.
Plan some physical activities together such as taking a family walk or bike ride, plan a canoe trip, play a game of backyard baseball, or train together for a fun race or mini-marathon.
Your kids will especially love it if you get out and play a game with them, plus there are so many wonderful games that families can play to have fun while getting exercise.
A game that is great for all ages is Capture the Flag REDUX. It’s the classic Capture the Flag game revolutionized with futuristic glow-in-the-dark lights. The whole family will be entertained as they break teammates out of jail, sneak into enemy territory, protect base and steal the glowing flag to win.
Each game box includes two glowing orbs to use as the “flags,” color-coded LED bracelets to differentiate team members, glowing jail markers, and a rule-book. As an extra bonus, each kit includes 12 game variation cards that offer even more ways to play. Purchase Capture the Flag REDUX here.
One of the biggest hurdles that parents encounter while trying to get their kids active is limiting screen times.
Kids ages 5 to 16 are spending over an average of seven or more hours on a screen, with the longest being teenage boys spending an average of eight hours and that’s just too long. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents allow kids no more than two hours of age-appropriate screen time each day. Parents should try to encourage active alternative to screen time such as outdoor games, shooting basketballs, or walking the dog.
Set guidelines for screen time with your kids and teens, be a good role model when it comes to screen use and activity and consider removing TVs and computers from their bedrooms to avoid temptation. Kids love to hang with their friends, so instead – invite a peer along on a hike or bring a buddy to the pool. Create good habits now and embrace a lifetime of happier, healthy kids.