We live in a world in which many children are exposed to technology before they are even a year old. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under two have zero exposure to screens of any kind (smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions) and that children over two be allowed no more than one or two hours of screen time per day—watching educational, nonviolent programs while supervised by a caregiver. These guidelines are based on research suggesting that excessive media use leads to difficulty in school, obesity and sleep disorders. The AAP suggests creating media-free zones in your home and getting creative about offering non-electronic ways to engage your kids.
Getting kids to unplug can be difficult when everyone in their lives—parents, teachers, caregivers, even doctors—uses computers, smartphones and televisions for work, social planning and entertainment. It’s important that parents talk with kids about how we use technology, set an example for them about how to use technology responsibly and create many opportunities for gadget-free learning and fun.
Educate children about technology
Educating your children about technology’s many uses and setting an example for them with your own selective, careful use of technology goes a long way toward helping them set their own limits for its effective use. As a writer, I talk with my children regularly about how I use my phone to communicate with clients when I’m not working and to set up playdates and activities for them. I only use my phone in their presence when I absolutely must—usually, I save it for when I have a babysitter or after they’re asleep. I talk with them about how I use my laptop to write articles and how their pediatrician uses it to log information about their health.
Limit screen time
Most of the parents in my neighborhood make a concerted effort to limit their kids’ screen time. In our family, our children may have one hour of screen time per day and choose how they spend it—a half-hour TV show or two, FaceTime with grandparents, watching a YouTube video about helicopters or checking the weather forecast on my phone. We emphasize that screen time is a privilege that can be taken away at any time.
My neighbors don’t even give their kids the password to the computer—they log in for them, so they can monitor how much time they’re spending on it and what they’re doing. Another family I know requires their teenagers to finish their homework before they can use the Internet.
Many families exercise care with email, social media accounts and smartphones, too—monitoring their childrens’ text messaging and electronic accounts. Too much time online, playing video games or watching TV limits the time kids have to do other things—exercise, volunteer, give homework their best effort and connect face-to-face with friends and family.
Create rich tech-free experiences
Research shows that reading to children of any age contributes to language development and literacy, as well as bonding with their parents and siblings. Most libraries offer myriad programs for children. Books are a fantastic way to entertain kids, and so is music.
While families can look into organizations like Music Together, a nationwide music education program for families, you can simply grab pots, pans, any instruments you have to form a band with your children. Share some or your favorite music recordings or memories associated with those songs for a story time setting.
Going swimming, heading to the park or going for walks and bike rides are just a few of the numerous ways kids can be entertained outdoors. In the winter, building snowmen and sledding add to the fun. Sticks and rocks can become just about anything with a little imagination, and young children have that in spades.
Children who spend plenty of time playing outside and engage in creative play and activities inside are healthier physically and mentally. We’d love to hear your ideas for involving kids in non-electronic activities.
About the author:
Katie Ginder-Vogel is a freelance writer and editor based in Madison, WI. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in English from Stanford University. An avid runner, hiker, and swimmer, Katie writes regularly about health and wellness. She has two children and a dog, who keep her company on the trail, on the road, and in the pool.