Remember your childhood? The knock on your front door a few hours after school let out, that always belonged to some classmate straddling his bike and asking if you “could play”? The way you burst out the front door on Saturday mornings, leaving your parents standing in a flurry of papers and flapping curtains like victims of a cartoon tornado? The freckled, tanned skin you sported all summer, which your mother tried to protect with sunscreen – that is, if she could catch you?
No matter where you grew up, your childhood is likely marked with the tell-tale signs of playtime outside. But for many children growing up today, these trademarks of youth are being replaced by screentime: selfies, Candy Crush, and hours of television.
Symptoms of Screentime
Technological innovations have made our world more “plugged in” than ever before, and experts are wary of the effect this has on our children. One study from UCLA found that time away from screens makes children better at reading human emotions and nonverbal cues. A 50-year study has noted that children’s creativity has been markedly decreasing since 1990 – the correlation between this decrease and the rise of technology is undeniable.
What’s more, children’s bodies are suffering after hours of screentime; today’s kids are less active, and therefore more prone to obesity. Even if they avoid weight gain, 84% of teens and reported experiencing back and neck pain in a 2013 survey, which Doctors attribute to “slumping and hunching over computers.”
As the research piles up against screentime for the youngsters, we parents need to take on the task of getting the kids playing outside. But how? Here are a few tips for making playtime a must-do for your family:
Provide Active Toys
When holidays and birthdays roll around, kids start begging for a new cell phone or the latest video game. But they can have just as much fun with active toys! Sports equipment, jump ropes, hula hoops, and others can promote playtime that keeps them off the couch. And once they find an activity they love, you’ll be hard-pressed to stop them from staying out until the street lights come on.
Sign ‘Em Up, Cheer ‘Em On
Community sports are almost always in session, so why not sign your kids up? Not only will the kids get their much-needed outside playtime, they can learn about teamwork, discipline, and other critical social skills (which, as you’ll remember, kids who indulge in excessive screentime lack). Soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming – the possibilities are many, which gives your kid the chance to try and find out where he or she excels. And who knows: you may have a future Olympian on your hands!
Of course, there is one key to making these sports a real win for your children: support them! If you’re at the games, cheering them on and praising their effort and the fun they’re having (note: NOT necessarily whether or not they won), your kids will learn to love playing outside just for the fun of it. That attitude will help keep your kids healthy long into adulthood.
Make it A Family Affair
While squeezing in a workout may seem like another item on an already overflowing plate, getting active with the kids is a surefire way to make sure they get their 60 minutes (the recommended amount of playtime children need). Take them with you to walk the dog, visit your local park, or even pay a game of catch in the yard. With the kids moving – and you, too – the whole family will feel healthier and happier before you know it.
Lead By Example
Have you ever found yourself in this scenario: you just got done scolding your child about “always being on that phone,” only to realize that you are sitting with the TV on and your phone in your hand, open to some email or distracting game? As parents, we have to resist the rising tide of constant-connectedness and set an example for our children. Maybe you need to schedule time where your phone is put away. Maybe you need to make a “tech jar,” where excessive tech time is met with financial consequences. However you do it, showing your children that less screentime is possible will make them far more likely to follow through.