How Important Is Screen-Free Time?
Parents are frequently warned about the detrimental effects of excessive screen time on children. Sadly, this issue has been compounded even further by quarantine periods and transitions to online education at home due to Coronavirus. Acknowledging that some screen time is inevitable, and even mandatory, these days, it’s still essential that parents monitor the amount of time that their family spends looking at and interacting with digital screens. In addition, it’s important that families maintain screen-free time each day as well to achieve a healthy balance between virtual and real-world experiences.
Drawbacks of Excessive Screen Time
A reasonable, moderate amount of screen time can work in a child’s favor. Understanding how to properly, safely, and effectively use technology is important in today’s world—for children and adults. However, excessive usage or over-reliance on technology as a method of entertainment, learning, communication, and so on, can lead to health risks and other complications—especially for kids who may not have the self-discipline or knowledge to regulate their own screen time.
Here are some of the physical, developmental, and cognitive drawbacks of excessive screen time:
- Eye fatigue and/or myopia (nearsightedness)
- Sleep interruption
- Lack of exercise and physical activity
- Impaired reasoning and/or critical thinking skills
- Limited vocabulary and expression
- Impaired social skills
- Reduced sense of curiosity and imagination
- Relationship issues with family and/or peers
If your child is exhibiting any of these signs or behaviors, contact your pediatrician for guidance and evaluation.
Benefits of Screen-Free Time
So, how important is screen-free time? Children reap many benefits from doing screen-free activities. In terms of physical benefits, time away from screens and digital media encourages more movement, which is healthy for the body. This is especially beneficial if screen-free time takes place outdoors where kids are more likely to get exercise through play and absorb natural Vitamin D from the sun (though overexposure to the sun’s rays should be avoided). In addition, focusing on the world away from screens can lower the risk of developing eye fatigue and nearsightedness in children as well as improve quality of sleep.
There are also cognitive benefits associated with screen-free activities. This allows children to explore the actual, physical world by relying on their natural curiosity which develops and enhances their imagination and critical thinking skills. Though many digital programs are labeled “educational,” they often don’t allow for self-discovery, freedom of thought and expression, and alternate methods of learning.
Screen-free time also provides benefits through socialization and interpersonal relationships. Children have a difficult time learning social cues and body language through screens and virtual worlds, which can impair their interactions with others as well as their development of empathy, communication, and understanding.
Of course, establishing screen-free time for families with busy work and school schedules may be more challenging than it seems. Implementing restrictions or formally forbidding device usage is typically counterproductive when it comes to kids. Therefore, a more effective strategy is to encourage screen-free time that is enjoyable and engaging such that kids welcome the break from their electronic devices.
How to Encourage Screen-Free Time
There are many ways that parents can encourage screen-free time for their children—and themselves—to achieve a healthy balance between enjoying technology or digital media and engaging in real-world experiences. Here are four great ways to encourage screen-free time for your family:
- Games: playing traditional (non-digital) games enhances healthy development in children as they learn physical, social, and cognitive skills. In addition, many traditional games are inclusive and can be modified so that kids of all ages, including parents, can play and enjoy. This fosters cooperation, critical thinking, and empathy, in addition to providing memorable family time. Parents can pass on traditions from their own childhoods in the form of “classic” games such as “Go Fish,” “Dominoes,” and even “Tag.”
- Puzzles: puzzles are also an excellent activity to encourage screen-free time. Kids can solve puzzles independently or cooperate with family members. Puzzles are inherently challenging and fun, and they teach patience, strategy, and complex thinking. Completing a puzzle also provides children with a sense of mastery and reward, as they can repeat the process over again.
- Books: for children who are old enough to read, non-electronic books can be a great activity for exploring the world without the use of screens. Reading is perhaps the best method for children to develop their imagination, focus, language acquisition, and understanding of the world. Even non-reading children can enjoy books by looking at the pictures and “making up” stories to match. If you don’t have many books to offer in your home, taking a weekly trip to the library can make for a great family outing. Parents should engage in reading time themselves, as modeling this behavior for children has a strong impact on their desire to be lifelong readers.
- Activity kits: activity kits are a terrific way to encourage screen-free time by keeping kids engaged and entertained with hands-on experiences. These kits often contain mazes, word searches, dot-to-dot puzzles, and art projects to keep children occupied with learning and allow them to explore their imagination and artistic expression.
Perhaps the most effective method of encouraging kids to take a break from their screens and devices is for parents to model that very behavior themselves. Often, it’s just as difficult for adults to recognize the amount of time they are attached to digital screens, and it can be even harder for them to limit this time. Children are far more attentive to what their caregivers are doing compared to what they are saying. Therefore, it’s important (and far healthier) that the whole family encourage and embrace screen-free time every day.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect children to regulate themselves when it comes to technology or turn away from digital screens altogether. However, the more real-world experiences that families gather, the more memories they build. To help encourage your children to spend screen-free time with fun and learning, explore Cognisprings and our thoughtfully designed games, puzzles, books, and activity kits!