I don’t think that it requires a lot of convincing to believe that we are now on our phones/ tablets/ computers way more than any generation in history. When I was working for a neurofeedback facility focusing on helping children (and adults) with ADHD, one of the first questions in the intake assessment was about how much screen time the children were having (because believe it or not, it really makes a difference when you restrict their screen time. If you want to read more, try this). More parents I talk to are quite convinced that the developing brains of these little human beings are, in fact, quite critical, but the gold-star question is…
How are we going to restrict their screen time without having WWIII in the house every day?
The truth is… IT IS HARD. When the children don’t get their screen time, it feels like a punishment to the grown-ups than one for the kids. You know, what if… God forbid… They get bored!!!! First of all, you have to work against the lie that we, modern parents somewhat believed. Repeat after me, “Boredom does NOT kill!”. As a matter of fact, it is a very good thing to children to be bored. That is one of the most important ways how they are pushed to be creative, in my humble opinion. The answer to the question of reducing screen time is simple. Just increase the amount of time for the following seven items. You may find reducing screen time easier and your relationships with your children more connected.
- Children-Led-Play Time
“What is Children-Led-Play-Time?” you asked? This video may give you some ideas (even if your children are older).
In a more simple and loosely defined way, it simply means they get to pick what they want to play whether it is legos, dolls, role-playing or coloring. They get to choose how they want to play. Through children-led play, it builds trust (and disarms fear responses for children with a traumatic background). It is not a time that they need to please you or follow instructions, but it is a time to build relationships with you. If you consistently practice children-led-play, you probably will gain more brownie points than actually bribing them with brownies.
2. Cuddling Time
Touch is a universal language. Instead of having screen time that your children spend hours in another room, consider increasing some cuddling time together. It is far more than the pleasure during that time. There are neurochemical effects happening in the brain during safe touch. For more information, please check out this video about safe touch.
3. Staying-Together Life-Skill Time
“But, I am so busy!” you probably are thinking. Consider getting them involved with whatever you are doing. Whether it is getting groceries, doing dishes, cooking or working in the yards. If you are intentional about keeping it consistent AND at their levels/ capacity, you will be surprised how much they enjoy being helpful and learning new life skills. You are also teaching them a sense of responsibility early on as they are a part of the family. More importantly, you may be creating some of the best memories together with your children. Do you remember the first time learning how to change a light bulb, use a plunger, or change your tire from your parents’ amazing lessons before youtube existed? Truth be told, I still don’t know how to change a tire, but even though I live thousands of miles across the Pacific from my mom, I still remember the little life hacks she taught me about flushing a semi-clogged toilet, cutting onion without crying like a baby or basic first aid techniques (my mom is a retired nurse). I appreciate those little life hacks AND those childhood memories with her. Don’t let the ipad or Youtube steal these precious moments away from you.
4. Outside Time
I am not a doctor here, but a physician once told me that the kids this generation are significantly more Vitamin-D-deficient than before. Guess what? They are not playing outside enough. There are also studies to show that children have better attention span and less stress when they increase their outdoor play time. Moreover, much of athletic activities and team sports require being outside.
If your child spends more time playing team sports, they are also learning more about team work, diligence, humility, dedication and opportunities to build resilience. By increasing your children’s outdoor playtime rather than screen time, you are building a strong foundation for your children to learn ethics and character traits that may last a lifetime.
5. Reading Time/ Quiet Time
When children are playing games on their computer or tablets, many parts of their brains are activated. The stimulation from the lights, the sounds, the colors, the speed of the movement (not to mention all the potentially graphic violence). Comparing to reading, even though the visual part was activated, it was a much slower process and the brain has to work much harder to create the image through the paragraphs which could have been readily available in milliseconds in a screen shot. What does that mean? That means that their brains could be lazier and lazier and since the brain has probably built up a high “tolerance” of high stimulation (like caffeine or alcohol), the brain wants more (and more) of the stimulation. Reading will become more and more boring. Yes, it is an uphill battle, parents! Be consistent with your children’s reading instead of screen time is not only about helping them to be literate and learning more words, it is important for the brains. Teaching children to have down-time is also going to be so important for them as a life skill to learn how to unwind. Surprisingly enough, nobody taught me that unwinding is a huge part of self-care. So, let’s start them young with these coping skills.
6. Family Game Nights!
Earlier, we talked about how team sports can be crucial to children learning how to lose and that it can build up team-work and possibly resilience (My father-in-law always talks about how impressed he was with my capacity to play “adversity” when I was losing in board games or card games). Consider building that into a part of your family ritual as well. Sometimes, family game nights might be a board game, a silly card game, a talent show or even role playing! I loved role playing as a kid. I was a teacher, a student, mom, a doctor, a nurse, a patient, a beautician, you name it. Those games are so fun and they teach children to have imagination, creativity and they learn social roles! Be silly and have some great laughs with your kids while preparing them to build some wonderful social skills.
7. Arts and Craft Time
Last but not least, just search a few ideas on Pinterest and you can have tons of ideas which can occupy your children for hours. It helps them to be creative, practice with their fine motor skills, and they can probably prepare a few Christmas, Easter gifts for grandparents during the crafts time. Why not?