Do you struggle knowing how much time to allow your kids on screens? You hear the research that kids are supposed to be outside playing and to stay away from devices. Yet, how do you balance both screen time and outdoor time?
I have totally been that parent that can’t wait to give my kid an iPad and let them have at it, so that I can take a few minutes to myself and breathe. I just want someone (or something) else to entertain them. To keep them occupied so that I can use the restroom without them barging in, or catch a moment to steal a cookie from the pantry without them seeing.
How Much Time Should Kids Spend Outdoors
Kids need to be outside every day. You can’t argue about the health benefits both physically and mentally. In case you missed it, check out this article all about the mental health benefits of outdoor play.
And in this article, they have combined the research of many studies that say your child needs anywhere from a few minutes of outside time a day to 3 hours a day. Eeek! But, bottom line, most research says 30-60 minutes of play a day is the best, and that this time can even be split up into multiple chunks. Ten minutes here, 20 minutes there, etc.
Creating Rules and Expectations Around Screen Time
Parents often feel the need to make rules around screen time. Rules are negative and require parents to manage them, such as when you say, “You only have 1 hour of screen time.” Now you have to track that time, and you will ultimately be the bad guy when you have to tell your child to turn it off.
Instead, work to create family expectations. With expectations, family members are held accountable to each other. It also allows children to rise to the responsibility. For instance an expectation might be that we agree not to use technology when eating at the dinner table.
You may want to set up expectations around the When, Where, and How technology is used.
When – Not during family dinners or family time. During the day.
Where – Only in shared family spaces (living room, etc)
How – Is it being used to connect with others? To create – such as creating movies or digital art? Or is it being used for playing games and consuming?
You may choose to allow your child to spend more time on a device if they are doing an activity that engages them in creativity. This can be highly engaging and productive. Don’t become consumed with every minute of screen time, because there is more value in certain activities than others.
Balancing Screen Time with Outdoors
You want to aim for a healthy balance. Similar to a healthy diet, where you don’t want to consume too much junk food or candy. Technology where kids are just consuming, such as playing Candy Crush can be similar to a junk food that you don’t want too much of. Activities where they are creating, collaborating or problem solving is similar to healthy food.
Here are a few steps to balance Screen time
- Create a family plan – Check out this plan from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It provides an opportunity to create expectations and individualize the plan to each child.
- Be a role model – If you want to your child to have a healthy balance with their devices, they need to see you doing that too. Make sure you take time away from screens (including phones) and spend times outdoors.
- Plan fun activities for outdoor – Check out these 7 activities to do outdoors to make it irresistible!
- Break up screen time with short bursts of activity – Practice using technology in smaller chunks. Then your child won’t lose track of time, and will be used to putting the device down to take a break. Make sure they do bursts of activity on those breaks to get their heart pumping, such as running in place for 30 seconds, doing 20 jumping jacks, etc.
- Be aware of individual needs of children – Children have different needs when it comes to technology. Some use their phones to listen to music to calm their anxiety, read, or journal. They may need more time to do these important activities for their own health.
- Help them learn healthy habits – Teach your child how to be independent with technology and be in charge of their own schedule. The more ownership they have over it, the more likely they are to stick to the expectations. You will also want to teach them what it looks like to feel addicted to technology. They can be self aware to determine if they are starting to feel the unhealthy habits of addiction.
Be flexible with balancing screens with outdoor time
There is not a plan that will work for every family or every child. Be ready to adapt and be flexible to the meet the individual needs of everyone in the family. It is important to keep revisiting expectations and discuss what changes may need to be made to the plan.
This is especially important if you have a teenager in the household. You will want to make sure that your teens have an opportunity to share their independent opinions. They need to have their point of view heard and taken into consideration.