No doubt you’ve witnessed the effects of too much screen time among the 5-15 crowd: hunched over an electronic device, eyes glued to the screen, tone-deaf to the world.
Many researchers continue to document the dangers of too much electronic stimulation. Whether it’s video games, iPads, smartphones, or simply watching television, many experts now tout the benefits of kicking tech to the curb.
Does this mean that parents should remove all technology? No.
Limited exposure can yield great results, especially concerning educational milestones. Dr. Larry Rosen published a great article on this subject, noting how children’s exposure to technology can exist as a double-edged sword. In “How Much Technology Should You Let Your Child Use?” Dr. Rosen poses three key issues for parents to consider when determining how much screen time is appropriate:
· Is there a lack of time for essential personal interactions in the real world?
· Is there a lack of time for creative thought and mind wandering?
· Is there a lack of time for calming overactive brains?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it may be time to consider disconnecting kids.
So what happens when kids become digital zombies? The consequences can vary. Too much screen time before bed can interrupt melatonin production and inhibit sleep. Multiple hours of iPad usage can result in behavioral issues. Consistent video game playing can result addiction, which studies show can negatively affect both physical and mental health.
Parents should take a hard look at just how much time their kids spend in front of screens of any kind. Dr. Rosen ultimately recommends establishing a ratio of 1:5 in favor of non-technological activities, meaning that for every minute devoted to screen time, five minutes should be devoted to other activities such as in-person social interaction or walks outside.
So how can we as parents dial back screen time? Great question! Here are five fun options for families to adopt instead of screen time:
1. Imaginative Play
Creative opportunities for imaginative play. Remember, sometimes this play can get noisy…imagine pirates fighting an epic battle with kitchen utensils and the couch as a pirate ship with a broom as a mast and a shirt flying as a flag. Reenact favorite movies or bring a beloved story to life. Model this type of play for your kids and schedule time for it daily.
2. Family Excursions in Nature
Commit to family excursions outside. Whether it’s hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, geocaching, or something else, get outside together. Turn off the phones and work at enjoying the outdoors. Check with your local and state parks to see what types of activities they offer. Many parks run free or low-cost programs ranging from star-gazing to bird watching to campfire cooking basics.
3. Institute Family Game Night
Get into those board games! Introduce your kids to the classics you grew up with and find new family favorites. Eeboo is relatively new company to the game scene that offers a wide variety of games, including a number of cooperative games that focus on teamwork instead of competition. Even better? Invite neighbors, friends, and family over to play indoor and outdoor games!
4. Reading Time
Never underestimate the importance of reading! Beyond reading for academic requirements during reading time, set aside time for everyone in the family to read. This reading should be for pleasure whether it’s magazines, newspapers, fairy tales, the classics, or something else. Read on the cheap by visiting your local library, or a little free library if one is close to your home.
5. Introduce Interesting Skills
Ditch electronics in favor of encouraging kids to learn age appropriate skills. Work with teens on how to change a tire or with tweens on how to tie different kinds of knots. Gear learned skills toward their current interests. What won’t they learn in school that they’d like to know simply to know it? Building basic circuits? Planting a flower garden? Crocheting? Breeding guppies for certain colors? Face painting? Henna? Encourage your kids to discover their interests, whatever they may be.
While replacing screen time with any of these options is great, don’t underestimate the importance of boredom. Learning to exist in a space without influence, without constant stimulation, is just as important as being able to function in a stimulating environment. Today’s society bombards children with information at a startling rate—so much so that today’s brains consistently wire themselves to deal with new information at a much faster rate than ever before. While tempting to replace screen time with something else, consider occasionally replacing it with nothing instead.
How does your family limit tech time?