The 21st century brought many technological advances to our lives. These advances have made our lives simpler in many ways and they save us a lot of time on our day to day life. However, these technological advances have several downsides. One of the major advances the dominant our lives today is the multiple screens that we spend a large proportion of our day staring at. Children and adults carry their personal screen wherever they go and use it for multiple purposes including their first intended use as a telephone, shopping, social media, games, news, music and watching movies and series. Naturally, this problem expends far over our and our children's personal phones to tablets, computers, televisions, etc. This problem has major implications, especially on kids.
The prolonged time children spend in front of a screen can cause multiple problems in various areas of our children's cognitive, physical and social development. Long exposure to screen and especially small screen from a young age can cause problems with eyesight and the number of glasses prescription for young children is on the rise for the last decade and is accelerating. Moreover, the longer our children spend in front of the screens limit their physical activity which increases the probability for early life obesity which in turn increase the chance that those kids will suffer from related disease later on in life such as diabetics. Furthermore, the time spent in front of the screens is the time our kids do not engage in social activities. It is true that many of the online games include the option of playing online with a group of peers but this interaction is virtual and limited. The increased exposure to screens reduces the social engagement of our children with their peers. This interruption in social engagement might have substantial implications for our children as they grow up and in adulthood. Thus it is no wonder that during 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics announced new recommendations for children's media use with an emphasis on limiting exposure to screens. These recommendations were followed last year by a report by the European Academy of Pediatrics and the European Childhood Obesity Group with much harsher recommendations including banned on smartphones for children under the age of 12.
Social interaction at any age and especially for children is a key to healthy interaction with society and the world around us. Children detached from their normal social environment may develop multiple personal social issues that can make them depressed and lonely which might affect their success in school and their adjustment to changes. Later on in life, these children might develop attachment problems making it hard for them to keep their job, engage in social events and personal relationships including finding a life partner.
The 'screens problem' is not restricted to our children's; we adults also suffer from it. In relation to our families, our engagement with the screens minimizes our personal interactions at home and affects the cohesiveness of our family and turns us into a group of individuals. Naturally, our children are the ones most affected by this problem. Our responsibility as parents is to provide our children with balanced home lives where they can feel safe to express themselves and grow to be healthy well-rounded adults with healthy social skills.
So what can we do?
It is hard to compete with the content provided through the screens. Thus, our only option is to lead by demonstration and to offer our children other options that they will find as entertaining as what their screens provide. This mission is not impossible. If you challenge your child and provide enough option one or two of them might lure your child and to move away from the screen for a few hours every day. In order to achieve this goal first, you need to think whether your kid prefers physical, social and indoor activity. Naturally, these parameters are not mutually exclusive and also depend on the time of the year and the local climate. In the following section, I will survey a large variety of options you can try out with your kids to see what will hook them and drag them away from the screen. Ideally, the best option is to find social activities like sports or a hobby that will hopefully become a regular engagement that fuel itself that will accompany your child for a long duration. I will also touch upon indoor and outdoor activities that can address this issue from a family perspective designed to improve the family social bond and communication skills.
Engaging in outdoor activities as a means to reduce screen time
The great outdoors offers many options for fun activities for children and the entire family. One of the best options for outdoor activity can help improve both the social and physical development of your child is a team sport. The combination of physical activity as a part of a team comprises of kids of similar age with a common goal is perfectly suited to get your child steered away from the screen. However, being a part of a sports team is not for everyone. The competitive nature of the sports team whether it competing for your place within the team and against other teams might become stressful. However, other fun sports that are not competitive might be considered such as racquet sports, surfing & skating, cycling, skiing & snowboarding.
The great outdoors offers many other options that are suited for children as part of an extracurricular activity or as a family activity that can strengthen the cohesiveness of your family.
Other outdoor activities that are not team sports are very common and highly effective in relation to the issue at hand here. Naturally, it's going to be harder for your child to consume content using a screen once he/she is outside. Moreover, the number of stimuli outside can occupy your child and distract him for whatever heshe is 'missing out '. Additionally, there are no electrical sockets distributed all over the great outdoors making it very hard to recharge any batteries. Thus, activities like horse riding, camping & hiking, and fishing could be easily initiated for the entire family with a small expense.
In summary, outdoor activities are the best way to stimuli your child and steer himher away from their screens for a substantial amount of time. Moreover, physical activities as a part of a team or individually tend to hook young kids and can become the major extracurricular activity of your child. Engaging in physical activities has other benefits including teaching self-discipline, strengthening self-esteem and physic.
However, physical activities are not for everyone and personal and health issues might rule out this option. Moreover, the weather does not permit outdoor activities all year round and if you have long and hard winters you should consider indoor alternatives.
Engaging in indoor activities as a means to reduce screen time
Indoor activities are very wide and well suited for all year round. Here I will describe both individual indoor activities and indoor activities for the entire family.
If your child can entertain himself you have an easy problem. All you have to do is go through several options that might be suitable for your child character that heshe might adopt and develop into a hobby.
Adopting a hobby at a young age has many benefits on top of the main drive described in this article. A hobby can provide intellectual skills that might serve your child later on in life.
Here are several options that you might want to consider:
Arts & Crafts offer diverse options for your child were alone or together with an older family member your child can experience a hobby that will allow himher to express another side of their personality that is not on the surface at school or home today. The ability to create something of your own driven by internal imagination is very powerful in developing your child's internal world and creativity. As a child, I was not interested in art & crafts per se since it was too abstract. However, model building was the thing for me. Learning how to follow interaction in order to bring my model to life was highly rewarding and it helps develop my technical skills which can in handy as an adult. Another very common option to reduce the time your child spends in front of screens is learning how to play a musical instrument. Learning how to play a musical instrument might be the best option as it combines multiple parameters that as a whole can help you achieve the main goal but also teach your child discipline, fine motor skills, a new language, teamwork and paying attention to details. The only problem with this option that you and the other occupant of your household and in some cases your neighbors might go through some rough time as your child takes his first steps practicing at home.
In this last section of the article, I would like to touch on what we can do as a family to increase the time we spend together and make this time meaningful and fun that our children will cooperate and it will contribute to your family cohesiveness. The main thing to remember is that it does not matter what you do together as long as you are committed to that family activity and are not distracted by your own screen. Thus, it is important when engaging in a family activity to set time for it and to make sure you will not be distracted. Children are very sensitive and the minute they will feel you are not all in they will lose interest. There are many options for family activities and I have already mentioned several in the article. However, there are several old fashion options that are making a comeback these days in all age groups thus making them highly suitable for the entire family including grandparents. Anywhere you look today you hear about groups of people from all ages meet to play games together. I guess that social interaction is irreplaceable. Depending on the weather and mood; outdoor games, board and card games are making a comeback. These options are relatively cheap, easy to store at home, do not require any overhead or preplanning and can be spontaneously engaged by the whole family. In order for it to work, it is important that you will play along and seem interested in the game so it will invigorate your children, otherwise, it will not work. Naturally, this family activity can strengthen the social bond between family members and during these games you will have a chance to experience and get to know other sides of your child's personality and on the other side it will do the same for your children which in turn will promote trust and respect, just remember to have fun!
In conclusion, it is unavoidable that our world is changing rapidly with the advancement of technology and if we are not careful we might be swept away. We need to learn how to balance the great new technological advancement and the opportunity they provide. However, we should remember that our children's development occurs over a long period and is composed of many steps that each has its own pace. Thus, we have to be responsible and protect our children from possible harm that might hinder their normal and healthy physical and cognitive development.
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