Today, kids are participating in less active play and spending more of their free time in front of televisions and computers. Some parents are worried about their neighborhoods’ safety, some families can’t afford activities, and some kids are simply more gifted at indoor activities. Whatever the reason for extended indoor time, make sure your kids have limited screen time and plenty of time to explore other options.
Set Concrete Limits
Children under three should ideally not be exposed to screen time at all. Young children (4-8 years) should not have more than half an hour of screen time. Anyone older should only have 1-2 hours per day, with “high-quality content” only. Set time limits for your children, and stick to them. Use an egg timer or buzzer to help them know when screen time is over. If desired, make screen time a privilege that children must earn by completing chores, behaving well with siblings, or doing a creative activity.
Make Other Activities Fun
Children often turn to screen time because they think other activities, like reading and playing outside, are boring. Show them the opposite is true. Sign them up for a reading program at the library, which will encourage both reading and healthy competition. Seek out free or inexpensive memberships at places like the YMCA so your kids can swim and play sports with peers. If you work full-time, encourage your sitter to get kids out of the house each day. Traditional sports-oriented activities are great, but science, drama, and art camps are popular, too.
Screen time increases when kids are over-scheduled; they see the television or computer as a way to relax. Encourage them to find other ways to chill out. Children four and under can and should take naps. Older children can play quiet games, work puzzles, read, or complete crafts. Designate at least one room in your home as a “screen free zone,” and resist the temptation to bring in your tablet, laptop, or phone when in that room watching the kids. Make sure the room is open, colorful, and stocked with plenty of options.
Work on Life Skills
Free time is also a great opportunity for kids and teens to learn skills that may not be taught in school. Ask them to help you plan the week’s menu and cook dinner, or work on a building project. If you have a teen approaching driving age, teach him or her the basics of operating and fixing the family vehicle. Work with younger kids on improving present skills, like cleaning up their own toys.
Though technology and screens are not bad, it’s all about doing everything is proportion!