We’ve all heard the complaints: Kids spend too much time on screens. They’re disconnected and preoccupied. Family time is a lost luxury. The list goes on and on. While few people will argue that media and technology are not responsible, at least in part, for some of the negative behaviors we recognize in 21st century kids (and adults, too!) there doesn’t seem to be a very cohesive consensus on what to do about it, partly because not all media exposure is inherently bad. Some of it, in actuality, can promote positive outcomes.
Positive Effects of Media on Children
TV shows like Sesame Street encourage empathy and cultural awareness all while exposing young viewers to early educational concepts such as letter and number recognition and identification of shapes and colors. School-aged children can collaborate on school projects with their classmates via approved platforms. Older children and teens find media is beneficial to maintaining relationships with family and friends, particularly those that live far away. Media also helps children to develop social awareness, both culturally and politically.
So, there are some up-shots to using media. Unfortunately, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives.
Negative Effects of Media on Children
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who spend too much time with media/technology are at higher risk for:
- Poor nutritional habits and obesity
- Lower academic performance
- Increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol
- Increased likelihood of early sexual encounters
- Increased likelihood of violent tendencies
- Increased anti-social behavior
- Poor sleep quality
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? It sure does! But, it doesn’t have to be.
What Parents Can Do
There are plenty of things we, as caregivers, can do to help children avoid trouble. But, let’s be honest – it isn’t all that easy. Sure, we’ve come up with some crafty ways to limit our kids’ screen use. We’ve awarded limited screen time as a reward for good behavior or good grades, we’ve revoked tech privileges in response to bad behavior, we’ve purchased parental blocks on our computers (only to find we had to ask our kids to help us set them up!) and we’ve commiserated with other parents, friends, and family about the growing problem of kids and tech. And, we’ve compiled lists.
Lists that look something like this:
Top 5 Ways to Get Your Child Off Screens
- Have him play outside
- Have her read
- Suggest a board game to play
- Encourage her to garden, or bird watch, or build a fort.
- Let him cook dinner
The possibilities are endless. But, here’s the thing. None of those ideas are worth the weight of a feather if we, the adults, don’t model the behavior we want and expect from our children. Do you want your kid on screens less? Then, start acting like it. Try some of these ideas on for size.
Ways You Can Inspire Your Children to Put Those Screens Down
- Put your phone down when your kids are talking to you.
- Shut the TV off when they’re doing homework.
- Dig that garden yourself and ask them to help you plant some
- Let them see you reading. Better yet, read with them (or to them!)
- Get your own butt outside and go for a hike. Ask them to keep you company.
- Volunteer for a project that you feel is important. Let them see you feeling good about doing good. Then, ask them what’s important to them.
- Make art.
- Go to a park and people watch. Write about or draw what you see. Compare notes with your kids.
- Invite your kids on a scavenger hunt at a museum. Make a list of paintings or items in the exhibits and then try to find them. The first person to find everything on the list gets an extra scoop of ice cream!
- Do yoga at a class, on your lawn, in the hallway. It doesn’t matter where. Just do it. And, remember to breathe. Show your kids how to relax.
- Discuss. Debate.
- Cook dinner – together. And eat it together. Even if you can only manage to do it once a month. No time for a family dinner? How about a family breakfast? Or a family cookie baking session one rainy afternoon?
- Give yourself a “Yes Day.” Clear your entire schedule for one day and say yes to any opportunity that comes up. Ask your kids for suggestions and say yes (as long as you set some parameters first! They can get pretty imaginative, as you know!)
You see, we all know what it is we need to do to help kids limit their screen time. And we all know why it’s important to do it. But, what we have to come to terms with is this: Our actions speak louder than our words. We have to embrace Gandhi’s philosophy and “Be the change we want to see in the world.” Sure it’s not always going to be easy. You most definitely will have to bribe yourself to go on that hike. Yes, you will find that you actually have to force yourself to put your phone down (face down) and give your little one your undivided attention. Sure, you’ll have a million other things that you should (rather) be doing than playing Monopoly or painting flower pots, but it’s going to be worth it. Because by modeling the behavior you’re asking of them, they’ll see that it’s important to you. And, they’ll see the value of the time you spend together. Don’t worry. You can do it. Your children will help you!
Suggestions for Further Reading and Research
For those of you who like to stay organized, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a Family Media Use Plan that you might be interested in:
For those of you who find solace in nature and recognize the value of time spent outdoors, Richard Louv has written Last Child in the Woods, a marvelous book about the risks of Nature-Deficit Disorder on our children. Here’s a link to his website: