Screen Time Alternatives For Kids
The average child (age 8 to 18) spends 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment every day. Winter is always a hard time to plan outdoor activities in the northeast and other parts of the country. Result: More screen time opportunities.
Encouraging kids to stay off screens can be a challenge, especially if you’re also working from home. But there are ways to make it happen for everyone.
“Abstaining from screens completely is really difficult,” says pediatrician Edith Bracho-Sanchez, MD. “To survive winter,” she adds, “Aim for balance, a mix of entertainment options, on and off screens.”
We asked Bracho-Sanchez, who is a mom and host of The Stuff That Matters for Kids podcast, about kids and screen time and how to create that balance.
Why is screen time all day bad for health?
We know that excess screen time can interfere with all the learning and socializing that happens during in-person interactions. It can also cause problems with sleep, interfere with behavior and development, lead to unhealthy weight gain, and even affect kids’ vision, posture, and muscle stiffness.
What are the health benefits of no/less screen time?
Reducing screen time and limiting excessive use of electronic devices has many health benefits, including:
- Prevent weight gain and obesity; reduce/alleviate poor posture and musculoskeletal problems; reduce or ease eye strain and headache.
- Less exposure to stressful or anxiety-inducing content, leading to improved mood and less irritability leads to better quality sleep, which leads to improved mental health.
- Allows for more face-to-face interactions, leading to better communication skills and relationships.
- Improves attention span and concentration.
- Creates more time for sports, exercise, and outdoor play, leading to better physical fitness.
- Allows for more opportunities for creativity and hobbies.
- Encourages time management skills; spreads free time across activities.
How cold is too cold to go outdoors, and does that vary by age?
It depends on what you’re wearing. If you’re appropriately covered, including small children, it’s okay to go outside in the temperatures we usually experience in Northeast winters. But some days, that may only be for a few minutes at a time. It’s always a good idea to take breaks to go inside and warm up.
What’s the best way to know if a child is warm enough to go outside in the cold?
We always say that kids need one more layer than adults. If you are warm, and your child is wearing one more layer than you are, they are probably okay.
What should you say to your kids to put down screens?
The best way to get kids to put down screens is to give them something else to do. When you can, plan time and activities together, as well as activities they can do on their own, with limited or no supervision. Anything that buys you time to get your own work done.
Here are a few indoor alternatives to screen time:
- Provide paint, colored pencils, old magazines, cardboard, paper towel rolls, and other supplies for painting, drawing, crafting, writing stories and poems, and creating scrapbooks. One fun arts and crafts activity to try with your kids is painting with salt. Check out this video for a fun activity that doubles as a science lesson.
- Tape a one-sided page from a coloring book to a window for a different view into coloring; add a piece of tracing paper on top for another activity.
- Encourage imagination by acting out stories with cardboard buildings, dolls, action figures, and toy cars.
- Toys can also be fun for the whole family! You can use your imagination to create board games that everyone can participate in, like this blogger did with figures and a printable game board. Check it out!
- Stimulate brains by making a big pile of anything and have kids sort into piles or containers.
- Create a reading nook with cozy chairs or pillows and a variety of books, or turn on an audiobook or podcast.
- Include kids in meal prep, baking, and cooking.
- Have a living room picnic on towels or blankets or the chairs you bring to the park.
Other ideas outside of the home:
- Go to the library regularly for new reading material (but if it’s a snow day, check open hours before visiting)
- Check museums for free or discounted admissions
What’s the #1 question parents ask you about screen time, and what do you say?
To be honest, parents don’t ask much about screen time, which is a problem. I think many parents are still afraid that I will judge them or give them a “bad grade” when it comes to screen time. The reality is that screens fill a void in our households. I use screens as needed myself, and I love to guide families with what I know as a pediatrician and what I’ve learned as a mom. Ask me, and we can make a plan together that works for you and your family.