These days, many kids are handling their first smart phones and iPads before they even start school. While these devices can be used to play educational games, watch entertaining videos or even read, excessive screen time affects our kids negatively. From decreased physical activity to increased eye strain, there’s countless reasons we need to encourage kids to get off the couch and into the outdoors!
Clinical psychologist Renee Mill elaborates on the effects of social media and electronic devices, quoting Time Magazine when she says “among kids who used electronic devices five or more hours a day, 48% had at least one suicide-related outcome. Furthermore, it also found that kids who used social media daily were 13% more likely to report high levels of depressive symptoms than those who used social media less frequently.” Make sure to visit Renee’s website for further parenting advice.
So what can we do to ensure our children do not experience these scary outcomes?
Give them a fun alternative
Before you go snatching your kids’ favourite devices right out of their hands, make sure to have some fun alternatives in place for them to turn to. For younger kids, consider a MyDeal sand pit that they can get creative in, or for older kids, a fun and safe trampoline. For more inspiration, browse MyDeal’s outdoor play range. Better yet, let your kids have a look and decide what they would most want to trade in their tablet for!
Parents, lead by example!
It’s too easy to complain that our kids are addicted to technology - remember that we’re the ones who instilled those habits in them and bought them their devices! Counselling Psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip says parents need to lead by example:
“When parents are over engaged in devices, social media and computer programs the child will naturally copy and model this as acceptable and normal behaviour. They have no real idea what parents are doing on their screen only they are on it, therefore, undertaking work on the screen away from kids is recommended. Put down the device, check emails and social media at set times only, demonstrate restraint and control. Always enjoy the family meal and family time, device free. This demonstrates your kids are more important to you than any device, something many children currently do not feel.”
When your children see you paying attention to them rather than multitasking on your devices, they will want to engage with you.
Parents, you wear the pants
Similarly, Dr Phillip urges parents to take control. “The parent is the one that sets screen time allowed. The parent is the one who organises an integrated play activity with the child. I recommend doing things with the child at times rather than just sending the child off to play. Engage with your child, create the need for imagination activities, sport or ball activities, anything fun to do. This is where you will see the child naturally gravitate toward a fun activity rather than just screen activities. Bored kids are screen kids.”
Get your kids to walk to school
You can also integrate activity into day-to-day life to make it even easier. Parenting coach Elisabeth Stitt from Joyful Parenting Coaching recommends getting your kids to walk to school, which lets them feel like a big kid while also developing their awareness of their surroundings and getting them moving. “Announce to your children that you want to give them more freedom by teaching them how to walk to school. This will have them running out the door before you finish your sentence! Even if it is too far for them to walk the whole way, can you find a logical starting point for some other reason? For example, if you can drop them off on one corner, you may be able to get to the freeway easily and get to work on time.”
Finally, in the words of Renee Mill, remember that “it is all about balance. Technology is a useful and unavoidable fact of life but it shouldn’t be the only - or the main pastime - in a child’s day.” Integrate educational online games with real-life outdoor play to ensure your kids grow up healthy and happy.