We all want our kids to grow up happy, healthy, and active. Yet for many families, when it comes to getting kids off their screens and playing outdoors, the struggle is real.
You’d think it wouldn’t be so hard, since playtime is supposed to be fun! Yet we’ve all noticed that when kids get into the habit of spending a lot of time on TV, apps, and video games, they seem more reluctant to play without a screen.
Why does this matter? Research indicates that excessive screen time can cause children to ignore other favourite activities, in addition to enhancing sleep deprivation and increasing risks around inattentiveness and aggression.
Meanwhile, the benefits of regular physical activity for kids are plentiful, as it helps with their flexibility, strength, bone density, as well as overall mental health.
The “3 Cs” framework
Yet screen time isn’t all bad. In a New York Times article, experts recommended parents consider the three Cs: child, content, and context.
Every child is different, and every family situation is different. Managing screen time isn’t just about monitoring how much time is spent with screens. It’s understanding your child and how different media affect them (child). It’s knowing what they’re doing (content). And, it’s noticing when, where, how, and why they’re using technology (context). Instead of feeling guilty about how much time your child spends on screens, focus your attention on what they’re doing on screens and how it affects their overall behaviour.
Guilt about technology is such a useless emotion because it just paralyzes us and makes us feel like we’re not doing a good job.”–Dr. Jenny Radesky, developmental behavioural pediatrician
Technology is a part of modern life. While it may feel like a fight each time you try to pry those devices out of their little fingers, believe it not, getting your kids off their screens (and active) is an attainable goal. Here are five strategies that may help:
1. Be a role model
“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work for kids. Parents can nag or try to reason with children to get off devices, laptops, and television, but the reality is that while your kids may not always listen to what you say, they are always watching what you do.
The first step in this process is to check your own use of screen time. If you notice you’re spending more time than you should on screens, let your children see how you deal with this. Explain to them the changes you are making to find balance in your own life.
Related read: 10 tips to manage screen time
2. Use a positive approach
Resist the urge to offer or take away devices as a punishment or reward. Dangling the prospect of screen time to get your kids outside and active may reinforce the impression that playing outside isn’t as desirable as playing with screens. It also doesn’t help to promote self-monitoring behaviours in children. Present screen time as something to enjoy in moderation—just one of many activities that are part of the day.
3. Set up a schedule (that you can stick to!)
Talk to your child and work together on creating boundaries around screen time. Ask questions like: What do you like to do best on your devices? Are there certain times of day when you prefer to watch movies or play games? When do you think screens should not be allowed?
Block off time during the day when screens are not permitted, such as at mealtimes, and ensure your child has lots of time for other activities they enjoy.
The ultimate goal is to coach your child to be more mindful of their choices around screens, and empower them with the tools to make good decisions. Set your child up for success by creating a schedule together that allows them to know when they can switch on their devices, and when they should play outside or do other activities.
Related read: A printable outline to help kids plan their own day
4. Encourage your kids to do what they love
Once they’ve put those devices down, it’s time for some real fun! Physical activity is so much more enjoyable when you do what you love. Encourage children to engage in the outdoor activities that they like, whether that’s going for a bike ride, skateboarding, skiing, swimming, or playing a round of golf.
This will help them develop positive and healthy relationships with exercise. They’re more likely to make physically active play a regular part of their day as a result.
5. Join in the fun
Toss your phone aside, and join in the fun! Playing together is a great way to bond with your child, and it creates lifelong memories. Spending time as a family will also encourage everyone to be more active at home.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to screen time and encouraging physical activity. It may take time to find what works best for you, your children, and your family, but it’s definitely time well-spent.