Written by Charlotte Deehr, RN, WPHS 9th Grade Center School Nurse
Learn more about Charlotte
My childhood unfolded in the last few years before the internet even came into being. I remember being 14 and AOL was the new big thing, chatting with friends through the computer? Amazing! However, today’s kids have lived their entire lives with bleeps, buzzes and signals coming from many channels of information. Parents and teachers alike worry about the impact that constant multitasking is having on children’s developing brains.
Even at a young age children are drawn to screens and smart phones. My own 2 month old will turn his head to see the T.V if he can, after all the noise, pictures and colors must be terribly interesting to him. So how do we ensure our kids don’t grow up to be screen-a-holics when there is clearly such a pull? And for parents, who themselves have plugged in. How do we reconnect and unplug in a way that’s fun, and functional? After all, we can’t ask our children to unplug when we ourselves can’t.
This is not just some thought, idea, or inane theory about how to reconnect with your kids and support their healthy development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 and limited screen time for kids over two. Their website claims that the average amount of screen time for today’s children is 7 HOURS per DAY. Whoa. That’s more than half of a typical child’s waking hours in a day! There is an increasing body of research that shows that excessive screen time can lead to attention problems, social delays, and an increase in violent behavior. Interaction with a live human being is clearly what human babies and young children need more than anything else. In fact, babies deprived of human contact die, even if they’re provided with adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Freedom to explore their world in a physical and sensory way is also crucial to healthy development. So, how can we help kids avoid media when screens are so prevalent and so unbelievably addictive? I’m glad you asked.
- MODEL WHAT YOU WANT
If you want your child to unplug, then you need to unplug. Yes it will be hard not to reach for the phone to check. Put it on silent, then you won’t hear the ding of the alerts, sit down, and enjoy dinner. Without the background noise. Show your children how to connect on a personal level not just digital.
- PLAY DATES
Make them no screen time play dates. Get outside, explore, or head to a local museum/park etc. This not only gets them away from screens it also challenges them to socialize, interact and get creative.
- OFFER A VARIETY
Books, games, puzzles, crafts, any other diversional activities. If your child isn’t getting into it right away try playing WITH them. Soon they will be immersed and you may be able to return to what you were doing.
- ARTS AND CRAFTS
Get some chalk and decorate the driveway, make some fun crafts to hang around the house for various holidays *even silly ones like national dog day or talk like a pirate day.* This is where Pinterest comes in handy. And have the kids pitch in to help clean up afterwards, don’t forget to have fun yourself.
- TUMBLE TIME
A little bit of roughhousing does everyone some good. Have some play time with your children, remember to let them win!
- YARD WORK
No one likes yard work, unless it’s the fun kind. Try planting a small garden, or challenging your kids to a contest of who can rake leaves the quickest (and throw in a prize if you like, something as simple as an ice cream cone, or no dish duty for the winner.)
- READ ALOUD
It doesn’t matter the age, any child can get transported away to another world in the form of a good story. Get your kids involved by alternating who reads, and you can even do voices for characters if you are feeling spunky. Pretty soon your child will be begging for their daily chapter.
In a society inundated by technology and digital relationships we need to be mindful to take a moment to unplug, reconnect with ourselves and our fellow humans.