The Screen is an inescapable reality of modern life. Devices are ubiquitous at home, at school, at work, and at play: weekdays and weekends; 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The benefits are undeniable. Screens connect us with entertainment, information, and other human beings. Those benefits come at a cost, though. And more than a monetary one. One of those costs is an increased difficulty in getting kids to play outside.
Study after study has demonstrated that today’s children are exposed to too much screen time too soon in their lives. In fact, the problem has become so pronounced, that the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a number of recommendations on the issue, including one encouraging parents to designate certain times of day as “screen free” for children and teens.
Fortunately, getting your kids to spend more time outside needn’t necessarily entail eliminating screen time altogether. With the following four creative approaches, families can balance screen time and sun time, and have a lot of fun doing it.
Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt? In the WiFi treasure hunt, the “treasure” for which your kids are hunting is the WiFi password of the week. Make the hunt fun by leaving clues in different locations around the yard (for younger children) or around the neighborhood (for older children). At the final location, leave a fancy-looking award (you can print them out on your computer) that includes the WiFi password of the week along with a coupon to cash in for an extra hour of screen time. Add an asterisk that indicates “some restrictions apply,” just in case your son or daughter may want to cash it in at an inconvenient or inappropriate time (e.g., after bedtime). Get older kids in on the fun by putting them in charge of arranging one of the weekly treasure hunts for their younger siblings.
Common Sense Media encourages families to adopt a device-free dinner policy. Endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, device-free dinners mean that if you’re seated at the table having a meal, your phone, tablet, or other device should either be powered off or left elsewhere. The goal of the program is to encourage family bonding, discussion, and supportive interaction.
Summertime is picnic time. But why limit it to just a few days of the season? Make a habit of enjoying most family meals (device-free, of course) outdoors, weather-permitting. On rainy days, have your “picnic” in a bedroom or living room. Just spread beach towels on the floor or make a blanket fort for an instant indoor picnic area.
Get kids in on the fun by encouraging them to plan and prepare one meal each week. Encourage younger children to prepare the meals as autonomously as possible by being as generous as you can with allowable fare. For example, raw baby carrots, grapes, and a toasted cheese sandwich hit all the basic food groups, but are manageable enough for even an elementary school aged child to prepare.
County fairs, state fairs, 4-H Club fairs, community fairs, block parties — the summer season is outdoor party season, and the perfect time for families to take advantage of a variety of affordable (sometimes free!), wholesome, outdoor activities. Have the kids drop their devices in a basket near the front door before you pile in the car to head out for some fun.
Contrary to what some parents may believe, some online games and apps actually encourage outdoor play and vigorous activity. Pokemon Go, for example, has spurred both children and adults to get outside to explore their communities. Consider adding a step-counting app to children’s devices and set up a contest among family members. Plan an event at the end of the summer to celebrate your accomplishments (e.g., if the family as a whole racks up 1 million steps, go out for pizza and a movie as a family). Geocaching is yet another way families can spend time outdoors without ditching their devices entirely.
At Headleveler, we’re committed to equipping our readers and customers with tools and resources that support healthy living. Be sure to follow our blog for more posts like this, and contact us to discuss how you can use Headleveler to support your neck as you and your kids get outdoors this summer to enjoy some time in the sun.