Did you know our children experience, on average, five hours of screen time a day? This includes everything from television to educational apps on the iPad to texting with friends or family. Only now are child psychology experts and doctors beginning to grasp the full impact screen time has on our families.
Too much time plugged in–literally and figuratively–to our technological devices can lead to health and behavior problems. Obviously, there are concerns about weight gain and inactivity, but more complex are the emotional impacts of children who appear to be engaged but are not able to participate in real life social surroundings. While technology isn’t going away, unplugging and connecting with our kids is a viable skill parents today must learn and implement.

Benefits of Unplugging

Most parents admit to using the TV as a babysitter every now and then. After all, dinner has to be made and little hands aren’t always helpful. However, there are many benefits to incorporating non-screen activities into your family’s lifestyle.

  • Unplugging teaches time management skills.
  • Unplugging boosts creativity.
  • Unplugging offers opportunities to learn social skills such as table etiquette or audience participation.

In a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald, the Early Learning Coalition noted, “Putting down your mobile device and spending quality time talking, reading and/or singing with your child helps them grow emotionally, intellectually and socially.” (Read more here.)

Steps to Unplugging

Banning technology is simply not feasible for most of our lifestyles. Plus, this can lead to rebellion as your children age. It is more important they learn from a parenting figure how to realistically manage screen time.

  1. First, do a reality check. Spend a few days or a week and track your family’s screen time. You might be surprised at how much it adds up to and you will be able to see when you are most likely to use it.
  2. Next, set a limit that works for your lifestyle. The American Medical Association recommends no more than two hours of screen time for children and teens, and none at all for those under age 2. This may not work for your family and that’s all right. Simply put a cap on what does work for you–such as earning 30 minutes of television for an hour’s worth of homework and chores or trading your teenager one show or movie in exchange for a walk around the block after.
  3. Finally, stick to your plan. There are days when we all need the decompression of a Netflix binge or a movie marathon. Don’t beat yourself up for these, but don’t make them a regular habit either. Find other ways to unwind and teach your kids how to have fun.

Unplugged Alternatives

Changing how you view screen time will go a long way toward helping your kids develop healthy habits. As a family, work toward finding other ways to connect.

  • Try having “analog fun” on the road.
  • Get outside and experience nature. Studies prove that this makes children and teens more likely to socialize.
  • Play family games together in place of family movie nights.
  • Watch television shows or YouTube with your kids and discuss what they’re learning and seeing.
  • Set up a cooking station in your kitchen for your little ones to prep their own pretend dinner while you make the real one–or have them set the table.

But most importantly, remember these years are fleeting and our time unplugged is precious.