Trying to get out kids unplugged and outside
We know that allowing our children to have too much screen time is robbing them of precious time moving their bodies yet it's so easy to fall into a habit of not monitoring. Even worse, we try to track screen time, but it turns into World War III.
The use of computers and other devices have been a big help in keeping us connected and entertained there is an enormous down side. Many of us hear ourselves repeating day after day, “go play outside!”
Maybe you've compared your childhood to your kids as we have? When I remember my childhood, I realize much of it I spent outdoors. Of course, I had lots of space (I lived on a farm) to roam around on while my children only have a backyard.
Kids in this generation are much less likely to spend the day building play homes with branches, making “carpet” with moss, picking “blow-its” (dandelions) while making wishes, or simply lying beneath a cloudy sky imagining shapes and creating stories.
Fewer kids walk to school than in the past, so that is another area where they are not exercising. In the 70's as much as 40% of school children biked or walked to school. Those numbers have dropped dramatically due to distance from schools and traffic related danger. Children have not made up for the missed exercise time, and many schools are contributing to the decline in movement by reducing recess and Physical Education times.
In 2015 only half of high school students in America attended PE classes on a weekly basis and less than a quarter of students attended PE daily. Less than 22% of school-age children achieved an hour of activity five days per week. (1)
Part of the childhood obesity problem is kids spend more time indoors sitting in front of a device than they do being active in the great outdoors. Many parents believe that weekend sports are enough exercise for their children, however, being involved in a sport is no guarantee that kids are moving enough, though it helps.
In fact, children of school age need to spend at minimum an hour per day in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Anything less than that can lead to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more. (2)
In addition, kids who are more active typically get better sleep. Possibly because being outdoors is a great stress and anxiety reliever. Children who are more active tend to have healthier cardiovascular systems and are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Not surprisingly, children who exercise more often do better in school because exercise can promote better brain development. Education is essential for our children and most parents tend to want the best for our kids.
Just demanding that my kids put down their devices and become more active was not working. Using a monitoring system such as My Circle helped but I still wanted them to be more active during the day, so I had to come up with a plan.
I realized I had put a bit of a negative aspect to “working out” with my love hate relationship with exercise. So, I decided that I needed to spend as much time working on helping them get enough movement as I did on making sure they ate enough vegetables! I also realized that I needed to be more aware of correcting my attitude towards exercise so they would too.
The gym that my husband and I use includes children up to age 12 in the membership for free. We could easily take advantage of the indoor and outdoor pools, large basketball court, racquetball rooms, and rock climbing wall. Incorporating that into my week needed to be more of a priority.
Still, I didn't want to spend all of our activity time indoors. I'm ashamed to admit that we have bikes gathering dust in our garage. The neighborhood we live in is not safe for riding bikes so I would need to take our bikes if we wanted to ride. I decided that I would start working on a solution.
Make it a routine to take a walk as part of family time. In the past, we have done a lot of Nature Walks as part of our school time, but I'd gotten out of the habit. Adding those Nature Walks into my schedule helped, so I penciled them in on my planner.
Many cities have excellent greenways, like Knoxville, where we live, where you can even get a map (kids love maps) to use for exploring them all.
Hiking can be a great family activity that will help our children (and us) put down our device and get more screen free time. A little research will help you come up with some great plans for hiking.
When we take our One Tank Road Trips, I like to include hiking a local trail when possible. Add this to your calendar, even if you only go hiking once a month. Or consider starting a hiking group with several of your friends and their children!
Doing the same activity all the time can lead to boredom so for me as well as the kiddos, so I wanted to make sure to include a broad range of activities every week. Mix it up and stay involved in some of their outdoor time.
On my trip to China, I saw people outdoors every single morning practicing Tai Chi, group dancing or playing Badminton. I have kept a set of racquets and shuttles in the trunk of my car for impromptu games in the park ever since! We try to see how many times we can hit it before someone misses.
For kids who have favorite television shows they can't stand to miss, consider adding a mini-trampoline (we use a ReboundAir) or a kid friendly stationary bike in front of the tube! My Mimi has a treadmill in front of her television that ALL the kids want to walk on at her house. Hula-hoops are another activity that can be fun inside or out. I keep mine handy to use when I watch a kdrama.
At the pool, it's tempting to lay on the chaise while my kids play in the water. It's better if I use diving toys and relay races to get their hearts pumping. Even a good water fight can raise our heart rate.
For your backyard, there's always the old-school games like hopscotch, jump rope, freeze tag, or dodge ball. Easy to put up and take down volley ball nets or soccer goals can also increase the odds children will start a game up. Even playing cornhole in the backyard is better than candy crush on a device, especially when you include prizes!
Our kids tend to follow our example, so it's important for us to set a good one by having times that we keep screen free such as at the meal table.
In my quest to spend more time in the sunlight, I also realized that there are some outside chores that older children can do that would qualify as exercise. These include:
- pulling weeds in the flower bed
- raking or blowing leaves into a pile
- cutting the lawn
- sweeping the porch or patio
- washing the outside of the windows
- vacuuming the car
- sweeping the garage
We don't pay our kids for chores, but if you do, you could always offer them extra cash for these tasks to give them a bit of motivation.
Teenagers often need a bit of encouragement if they are not involved in organized sports. It can be way too tempting just to spend the day on social media or playing a game on their device. Pick your battles, but some things that I have encouraged my younger and older teens to do includes:
- volunteer for dog walking at the local shelter
- adding them to my gym membership
- laser tag with friends
- Frisbee in the park
- ice skating
If you live near the beach, there's nothing better than walking on the sand as often as possible! Those of us who live in the mountains can have a healthy heart by climbing and hiking them.
When my youngest ran her first 5k at only five years old, I asked her to be my coach to keep me motivated and keep her interested. Making my munchkin a personal coach was fun for both of us and a workout for me; just try keeping up with a five-year-old!
A few final do's and don'ts:
- add before you take away (add activities they'll love)
- set limits on screen time
- monitor limits and progress
- model healthy device usage by limiting your own screen time
- expect your kids to be happy about limits
- nag kids about how much time they spend on devices
- expect things to go smoothly, this is a touchy area
- don't minimize the risks of addiction to smartphones and other devices
What solutions have you found for limiting screen time and what activities does your family enjoy device free?
1 – National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. 2016 US report card on physical activity for children and youth. Columbia, SC; 2016.
2 – US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2008