With summer getting into full swing, many families are gearing up for longer days, warmer weather and more fun in the sun. Summer provides endless opportunities for children to explore the great outdoors, try new activities and engage in creative play. Trouble is, too many kids don’t look up from their screens long enough to notice. And while apps and iPads offer a wealth of educational tools, growth and development still depend largely on face-to-face interactions.
When it comes to screen time, moderation is the key, especially since excessive use can compromise kids’ health. How? Studies link excessive screen time with overeating, less physical activity and changes in brain function.
So to help you encourage your children to turn their devices off and their imaginations on, here are 5 strategies I recommend to establish a healthy balance around screen time:
- Go old school. Instead of touching a screen and watching images change, board games offer opportunities to communicate and joke as you play. Reading together is also another great bonding activity. When you read a book, you can point to pictures, ask questions and discuss the story’s message. All of these interactions are important for brain stimulation and development and will strengthen your family bond, too.
- Get creative. If your kids still want to play with screens, encourage them to select activities that require flexing their mental muscles. Take advantage of movie-making apps or help them create a virtual scrapbook and add music to the mix. The goal: to use apps and devices as a tool to develop creative projects.
- Establish healthy limits. While most kids would be happy to play with devices morning, noon and night, I encourage families to maintain a 2-hour limit for screen time, even in the winter. Whether they’re watching TV, texting on the phone or playing an educational app on an iPad, they shouldn’t be viewing screens for more than 2 hours a day. Keep in mind, too, that screen time too close to bedtime can interfere with your child’s sleep. Another tip worth trying: Have your kids “check in” their phones to you 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. And try to avoid putting a TV in their bedrooms.
- Focus on games and apps that encourage children to be active. Instead of letting kids sit still for their 2 hours of screen time, choose games and apps that have a physical component. Wii Fit, for example, has games like tennis and bowling that require movement to play. They’re also interactive, so kids get instant feedback.
- Encourage first-hand learning. Instead of relying on TV programs and apps to be their primary learning resources, focus on exposing your children to new experiences. Take them to a museum, the zoo or even a new outdoor adventure park. Or sit down with them to write a story together. The best kind of learning takes place when your children are interacting with other people.
Parents often worry about their children getting bored, especially over the summer. But boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it encourages creative play. So stick to your guns by establishing healthy boundaries around screen time. And if you’re dreading the potential backlash, sit down together and make it a family affair. Brainstorm new summertime traditions like a family game night or a weekly park date. (Check out some low-cost, screen-free activity ideas here.) When you make the commitment together, you’ll get much less resistance.
Are you looking for a healthy way to use your child’s 2 hours of screen time? Download our app — 5-2-1-0 Kids! The app provides healthy indoor games and teaches children the importance of healthy habits. The goal, of course, is to get fit, have fun and encourage kids to use their imaginations.