We believe that all parents want what is best for their children. We also know that our world is changing more quickly than ever before, and sometimes we are swept into new lifestyles before we realize it. Who would have imagined 30 years ago that we would need to encourage parents to send their children outside to play? But, with children spending between 40 and 60 hours per week attached to electronic gadgets, and the balance of their time scheduled between school, sports and other extracurricular activities, educators, doctors and early childcare experts are beginning to see a myriad of negative effects ranging from reduced cognitive development as a result of overly structured activities that do not stimulate problem solving and creativity, to childhood obesity, reduced muscle development and balance and other physical ailments.
Clearly, this is a common topic of conversation in households with young children.
We hope that your family will take a step back from the hurried lifestyle to which we have become accustomed, and recognize the need for all of us, but especially our children, to have free time for play! Once they’re outside, we predict that they’ll have plenty of their own ideas!
“Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth”.
Read on for five ways that you can teach your children (and perhaps yourself too!) how to stay present and put down their (or your) gadgets:
1. Educate Yourself First
Before you set guidelines for your family, it’s safe to know that according to experts of child development;
- It’s really important to note that for kids under eighteen months, it’s recommended that strictly no screens should be allowed.
- For kids ages between two to five, about an hour per day is the suggested limit.
- While experts acknowledge that in our modern culture, screens have become a part of life. For example, your kid loves reading the non-fiction books, there are apps available for that! Should play the educational, adventure app count as screen time? It depends on the wider context and on your family’s specific situation.
- For school-age children, rather than making blanket recommendations for all kids, the experts suggest that each family create a consistent plan that acknowledges the many types of screentime that might benefit kids. What works well for one family might not work in another. Most importantly, set clear and consistent guidelines and communicate your expectations to your kids.
2. Be the Change
One of all time great quotes that seem to apply in so many of my life experiences comes from Mahatma Gandhi, who famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I definitely struggle with limiting my own screen time. I often find myself aimlessly scrolling through Instagram to pass the time. Last year, I decided to deactivate my personal Facebook account (I still use it for business) because I was spending too much mindless time on that site.
It’s a step in the right direction, but I still have more work to do. One of the things that motivate me to monitor my time is that more than the words that I say, my own actions with screens will teach my son how to use screens as mindfully and positively as possible.
As you reflect on how you will teach your child about screen usage, take a moment to reflect on how much time you spend each day on screens and consider how much of that time is mindful and important. You might decide to make some changes for yourself as you also set limits for your child.
3. Talk to Your Child
One of the simplest strategies you can use to help your child become less attached to their gadgets and become more present is to talk to them about it. Rather than just laying out a set of rules that might feel arbitrary and punitive to your son or daughter, start off by asking them what they think about their screentime.
Ask them how they feel when they use their gadgets, and when they are away from their screen. My husband and I were surprised to hear my son, an iTunes and app enthusiast, confess to us that sometimes he doesn’t like how he feels when he’s been on his screens for too long. That self-reflection is more valuable than anything that we could ever explain to him.
4. Take a Break
Choose one day each week (or a weekend) to take a break from screens, gadgets, and devices. Make it an electronics-free day. “But I’m bored!” might be the initial response. Some experts argue that boredom is incredibly valuable for a child’s development.
In my own home, I’ve noticed that my son might initially resist these “empty” spaces. But within a short amount of time, he’s writing a book, building a castle, or coming up with some other creative idea. In my experience, boredom is fertile soil for creativity and growth.
Of course, this electronics-free day applies to you as well. Notice your own reactions and talk about them with your child. Saying to him or her, “I miss my phone but I know this is going to help me feel happier in the long run,” is a great conversation starter. Sharing your vulnerability will help to build bridges and to teach your child how to handle challenges in the future.
5. Plan Alternatives
As your family initially detoxes from screens, it might be helpful to have some alternative activities waiting in the wings. Create a list of individual or family activities that don’t involve any technology (e.g. playing basketball, board games, taking a walk, baking a healthy treat).
Another possible alternative is to ask your child to Practice Yoga or meditation with you. My son loves to practice with me. His favorite pose right now is a five-pointed star.
Check out this awesome guide to Yoga for Kids get ideas about practicing together. Developing a yoga and/or meditation practice will help your child to learn to sit in the present moment just as it is, without any outside entertainment, allowing them to make positive choices about screens now and in the future.
How do you handle screentime in your family? What other tips do you have for parents struggling to set consistent limits for electronics?