The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children spend an average of 7 hours per day using screens. Shocking. Even the most ardent media lover can see that this is very, very wrong.
So why are kids glued to screens more and more? Well, why are you? Unless you are incredibly self-disciplined (and I'm not), then you too are using screens more than ever before. Heck, for most of us, our smartphones are connected to us by an invisible umbilical cord. They come with us wherever we go - even into the bathroom or bedroom!
The truth is that media makers have become better and better at grabbing our attention. They draw us in, give us a quick fix of dopamine, and then leave us wanting more. The powerful combination of insidious marketing and ubiquitous, 24/7 technology has us grown-ups hooked. So what chance do our children have? Put bluntly, none. Not unless we the parents are mindful, proactive and clever in our approach to media usage within our family.
Here are 5 actionable ways to get kids off screens and into the real world:
1) Model it yourself
There is absolutely no way you can get kids off screens if you walk around your home gazing at your smartphone. You've got to kick the habit first. Why not buy your kid a stunt scooter and ride it around, show how much of a cool Dad you really area. That will make them jump out of their seat and want to have a go!
2) Limit family screen time
Rather than cutting it out completely, go for a minimal screentime approach with firm and clear boundaries. The trick: do it together, as a family. That way it feels fair. Like you are all in it together.
Designate short "catch up" times where everyone can check their phone or laptop. Keep it short and be strict. During weekdays, try two 20-minutes windows, eg, 5–5.20pm and 8–8.20pm. On the weekends, you may choose to allow a little more.
3) Make a phone "sin bin"
Create a special place in your home where the whole family puts their phones. Perhaps a box or set of miniature baskets. It helps if it looks fun or cool. It could even double up as a charging station. The idea is that everyone's phones live in the "sin bin" unless there is a call or it's a designated "catch up" time.
(Okay, "sin bin" sounds a bit negative. How about "phone farm"?)
4) Start active hobbies together
If your kid is glued to social media or gaming, there will be a void left when it's taken away. To avoid resentment and boredom, try filling that time with something active that you do together, eg, swimming or cycling. Whilst the body is moving the mind is engaged. Anxieties that can accompany media over-usage will fade away.
5) Tap into 'real world' play trends
The transitory nature of the digital age lends itself to trends. They are fleeting, coming and going in an instant. When you restrict family screen-time, you may find that your child worries about losing touch or missing out on the latest trends and memes. They most likely won’t, but there is a great way to compensate.
Proactively support your child's participation in 'real world' play trends. These are any trends that involve physical activity or non-digital toys. The best current example is kids stunt scooters. These have taken over and have firmly replaced skateboards in most schools and neighborhoods.
The idea, then, is to restrict media usage whilst at the same time going out of your way to support and endorse physical play trends. Buy them an awesome stunt scooter, invest in a drone, fork out for a power kite. Yes, it may cost a bit more, but it will help them to participate confidently among their peers whilst pursuing healthy, 'real world' fun.
Don't give your kids a hard time if they are addicted to screens. If we grown-ups can't put down our Facebook feed when we are supposed to be sleeping, then how can we expect our kids to be more self-disciplined?
The most positive and rewarding way to approach the issue of screen-time - is together - as a family. Lead through example and make it feel like you are all in it together. Then, as you take away, give back. Start hobbies together and proactively support them in new play trends such as scooting. This way, your kids will feel encouraged, not just restricted.
Any change is tough at first, but stick with it and your whole family will benefit from a more connected and healthy life together.