You’ve no doubt encountered the glazed look of your child mesmerized by a blue screened device. You’d like them to do their homework, go out and play, or spend some family time. Often, your demands or pleas to turn it off meet with an argument, indifference or just outright defiance.
You are not alone; a recent study found the average child spends seven-and-a-half hours a day plugged into a game console, smartphone or computer. While some digital media use can be beneficial, The American Academy of Pediatrics is addressing the issue with new recommendations and resources to help families maintain a healthy media diet.
So what’s a parent to do? Here are seven strategies to help your children unplug:
Set a good example. Your kids are watching as you regularly binge on Netflix, check email, or text friends or relatives while at the dinner table. If you don’t want them to be doing it, don’t do it yourself.
Create digital-free zones. Have your children help set up rules such as no texting, TV or laptops during meals and time each evening when cell phones, TVs, and computers will be shut off.
Make digital time family time. Joining your kids playing video games or watching a favorite show lets them feel you’re engaged. It will make it easier to help limit that activity.
Set time limits. Whether it’s a home timer, an onscreen countdown clock or verbal reminders, it’s important that you set and stick to deadlines for the digital activity to end.
Recommend other activities. Tell them that after an hour of media, they can have dessert, paint or play a game of hide-and-go-seek.
Keep your kids active. Whether it’s joining them for a bike ride, hike, game of tag, soccer, baseball or basketball, your children will be getting exercise, and they won’t be using their computers or phones.
Help them find organized activities. Organizations such as scouting, sports teams, church groups, academic clubs or volunteer work assist them to engage in social and physical activities, and coaches and group leaders often ban electronic devices.
If all of these fail, have a frank discussion with your children about the mental and physical health issues associated with overuse of electronic devices, game consoles or TV. Ask them if they notice that they might be gaining weight, feeling isolated, having mood swings or are less energetic because of so much time spent watching movies or gaming. Then ask them if they have any suggestions to solve the problem. You might be surprised at their insights and solutions.