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.