Screen time for kids is a highly debated topic. On one hand, smartphones are changing life as we know it. Furthermore, moderate use of devices has proven to have positive effects on children’s well-being. On the other hand too much screen time can cause a string of problems from isolation to sleep deprivation. Top tech companies like Apple are developing tools to help parents manage kids’ screen time. At the end of the day, the virtual world can be much more interesting and fun than real life, thanks to vibrant animations and interactive tools. Here are 4 ways to help your child rediscover the joy of life in the real world.
1. Create activities and environments that promote the sensory experience
Remember technology is able to provide an optimal immersive experience. Your child has for instance witnessed ‘animals who sing and plot elaborate escapes from zoos’, when your pet cat probably does nothing at all. Therefore, feel free to go all out in setting up the ideal play spaces. Get the children involved in the designing and creating process. Take a trip to anywhere, and spend time exploring the surroundings. Dress up as your favourite characters and put on a great big show. Use the weather outside to build snowmen during winter or have water fights in the summer. Select books with interactive element, such as flaps and dials or scratch-and-sniff spots. Be creative, get messy and stay involved.
2. Encourage and reward non digital activities
Prompt your child to engage in a variety of activities combining physical, social and creative elements. Encourage kids to play together with their siblings, friends or other children from their neighbourhood. Alternatively, you can also set up play-dates for them. Motivate them to take up a hobby or a sport. Involve them in activities that purposefully do not use technology such as baking cookies, gardening or painting the summer cottage. Moreover, reward them for periods spent away from screen time. This could be a social reward such as taking them on a picnic, giving them something materialistic such as a sticker or an ice cream, or using good old verbal praise. Bare in mind if you use this to stop your child from throwing a tantrum or each time she refuses to do something, it will become a ‘bribe’. The key is to be consistent, effective and fair.
3. Let children select the activity
The thought of letting kids pick the activity for the day can be both daunting and exasperating. Most likely, you will end up knee deep in a muddy field or reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ for the 1027th time.
For instance, after playing ‘tag’ (hippa) for the better part of a weekend, I was informed by the 4-year-old in charge that we had in fact played 4 different games – runners and catchers, catch and freeze, police and robbers, zombies and humans. This right here is precisely the point. Repeating the same activities is a key part of children’s learning and development. It fuels their creativity, critical thinking and cognitive skills. Moreover, when given the freedom to choose an activity, children will remain more interested and involved. This way they get to do their, constantly changing, favourite thing in the world every time.
4. Make activities a part of daily rituals or family traditions
This is another excellent tactic to divert little kids’ attention away from screen time. The easiest ritual, which you’re most likely carrying out now, is bedtime stories. Introduce a ‘bedtime’ for all the digital devices a couple of hours before your child goes to sleep. Snuggle up with plenty of books and make reading a part of the daily bedtime ritual. Furthermore, bring back monopoly, jenga and puzzles. Huddle around the dining table and spend couple of hours a week playing board games and ganging up against Dad. Make a football tournament or fishing a monthly event. This is a wonderful way to promote quality family time, create quirky traditions and celebrate life.
Meanwhile, it is important to remember that spending all our time doing any one thing is problematic. Whether it’s outdoor play or screen time, a variety of activities in moderation is the key to enhancing the overall well-being of children. However, technology shapes a large part of today’s world and the meaningful use of it has many benefits. Particularly with screen time ‘how’ children use it is far more crucial than ‘how long’ they use it for. So don’t be too hasty to throw out all the digital devices and completely ban screen time. Instead try some of these methods. Maybe next time, your child will choose the trendiest variation of ‘tag’ over screen time.
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