According to the US Digital Consumer Report, each American owns (on average) four digital devices and spends nearly 60 hours a week consuming digital media. There’s no question that choices abound for accessing content, from computers to tablets, phones, and gaming devices, making it tough to escape! Although most of us didn’t grow up with this much access, it’s another story for our kids. Never has it been more important to develop strategies to get kids moving and away from all of the electronics.
Studies show a correlation between increased screen time and higher levels of childhood obesity, which should be reason enough to help our children turn it off. Because kids are less active today, they’re also experiencing the negative side effects of sitting so much. And perhaps the most detrimental longterm: We’re creating habits that will turn the next generation into one that might not even know the joys of moving their bodies! We need to fight back. Here are a few ways to limit tech time and encourage more active behavior.
It’s tough to admit, but your family’s techie ways often start with YOU! Begin by taking note of how often you have your nose pointed at a glowing screen. Our children model our behavior and take cues from what they see. Whenever you can, turn it off, put it in your pocket, and engage with your kiddos in a tech-free way! This may be the best way to change your offspring’s habits.
Talk It Up
No need to avoid the conversation. Talk about digital consumption and the potential negative side effects. Education is the first step to changing habits. Of course, depending on the age of your child, the conversation may need to be different. But even the tiniest tots will benefit from learning the difference between screen time and play time! And your older children can learn from your personal struggles in this area.
Turn It Off
Establish times when digital is down. For example, “go dark” during homework, meal times, or a specific time period on the weekends. Be sure to replace the downtime with conversation or alternative activities instead of saying, “When I was your age…”. Begin with conversation starters at dinner and have creative activities at the ready on the weekend. Redirect your tots with projects, games or real books!
Instead of imposing a strict screen time allotment, provide opportunities for your children to “earn” screen time with physical feats! This is most important on the weekends, when screen time ramps up as scheduled activities slow down. For example, instead of flipping on the TV on Saturday mornings, have a list of physical and non-digital ways he or she can earn the first show or game. Perhaps a bike ride earns a show, 20 jumping jacks gives them 5 minutes on the computer, or reading a chapter in a book earns a game. Any time your child engages in these non-digital activities, especially the physical ones, provide huge congratulations and try to draw attention to how great moving makes them feel!
Take a Break
When you’re ready, be brave and try a total tech detox. Start small and work your way up! Make it a family challenge by choosing an activity where you will all promise to leave the devices behind. It could be a walk around the block for your first time. Then, maybe you progress to a Sunday brunch. And finally, a family camping trip. All devices go in a pile and the first person to grab or gripe has a consequence. Keep the consequences light-hearted, such as doing something embarrassing in front of the family, cleaning the kitchen, or becoming the nominated dog walker for the day!
Now that I’m done staring at my computer to get this blog post done, it’s time to go turn off the iPad my munchkin is currently staring at and try one of these tips! Good luck, from one digital junkie to another trying to navigate this ever-present electronic world.
For more inspiration, read “8 Ways to Get Your Kids Off Their Gadgets.”