What's all the fuss about screen-free time?

playpack screen free ipad

Why does it matter?  We all spend so much time on our screens; isn’t this just the way things are now? 

We can all think of many reasons why too much screen time for kids can be harmful but it’s hard when screen time is just the norm for so many people all throughout their day. It’s how we learn, research, call an Uber, connect with friends, listen to music, watch our favourite shows and so on. Surely the benefits outweigh the harmful effects right? 

The simple truth is, WE didn’t grow up on screens for hours upon hours and even as adults we are suffering from the sedentary nature of spending too much time in front of an iPad, iPhone or computer- not to mention that it’s messing with our sleep and making us feel bombarded with too much information our brains just don’t have the capacity to process. Let’s admit it, sometimes a whole hour can be swallowed up scrolling through Pinterest or following some wormhole on Insta! It’s mind-blowing how we’ve been hijacked and this is all fairly new to us so we certainly have a stronger urge to resist the temptation. Imagine then, what it’s like for our children? They don’t know any different unless we make a conscious effort to show them what screen-free life is like. Instead of letting devices rule our lives, let’s take some steps to be more mindful about HOW and WHEN we use screens throughout our day.

Time connecting with our little ones 

The time you spend in front of your screens is often time not spent connecting with your little ones. Playing, connecting and engaging actively with your kids is not just good for them, but it’s also great for us adults! It creates stronger bonds, puts us in a great mood, and provides the learning opportunities that your child needs to develop social and communication skills. Things that screens just can’t provide.

Developing better communication skills 

Communication is reciprocal and to be a competent communicator you need to actually practice communicating - this means not just listening and tapping a screen but actively engaging, expressing ideas, practising talking and learning to read social cues. All of which is mastered with a lot of face to face time with other humans. Let’s embrace time away from screens to become fantastic communicators!

Healthy Lifestyle

Any time spent sitting in front of a screen means you are not moving! You and the kids are also exposed to clever marketing designed to make you crave all sorts of unhealthy snacks and drinks. Did you know, over 60% of food ads during children’s peak TV viewing time is for junk food? Only 6% is for fruit and vegetables! A NZ study has also shown that children who watched more than 2 hours of TV a day, had a higher rate of obesity, blood pressure and smoking as they reach adulthood. A few more fun and active games every day is good for us all. Why not have a little rumble in bed, a race to tidy up the toy room or good old-fashioned hide and seek.

Better sleep 

Many new studies are showing that screen time before bed can affect your ability to sleep and leave you feeling tired in the morning. Cell phones, computers and TVs emit blue wavelength light which is fantastic during daylight hours because it boosts attention, reaction times, and mood, but at night this blue light can affect our circadian rhythms, which is like a personal internal clock. Those who don’t follow normal sleep patterns have a higher chance of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer! Harvard medical school now recommend we reduce our exposure to screens at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to ensure a good nights sleep. What can you do during this time instead? How about reading a book together, or getting out the snakes and ladders board. Perhaps you could stretch and relax together with some kids yoga?

More time to pursue passions 

Why waste another minute pinning pins, and liking posts on insta, time to get into ACTION! What are you passionate about?… get some inspiration and then make it happen. Why not get your little ones involved somehow? The feeling of satisfaction from using your time more wisely is amazing. What would benefit you best right now, working on a new idea you’ve had, taking some time to read a funny book, or perhaps you just need an early night so you can start tomorrow fresh!

Devise a family plan that builds screen time into your day in a healthy way and at the same time lets you focus back on the values that matter most. Is it your health? Is it connecting with your kids? Is it your passions?

How can my family embrace a screen-free family plan? 

STEPS TO GET YOU GOING: 

  1. MAKE A LIST

Make a list of all the great things you could do with your time; jumping on the trampoline, playing outside, crafting, bath time, cooking, playing Xbox...watching You-tube. 

  1. SCREEN vs SCREEN-FREE 

Talk about what is screen time and what is NOT screen time - sort the activities into groups (you could even make a container with all the suggestions, one for each category). For younger kids, use visuals where you can (check out our visuals blog for ideas!)

  1. CREATE A FAMILY SCHEDULE 

Plan and make the schedule together - this will give you so much to look forward to as a family and make you less likely to fall into the old habits of passing idle time on screens. Your plan could include set screen times, family game time, family chat time, quiet play, daily routines e.g bath, teeth, bed. Whatever works best for your family.

  1. AGREE ON FAMILY RULES 

Decide on family rules that will help with those tantrums about ‘getting off the screens’ a little easier - maybe make it a family rule that everyone is off their screens by 7.30pm. It will be hard at first, but having a 'family law' about it will certainly help, children need to see you modelling the behaviour as well. You could even go so far as putting all the devices to ‘bed’, make a ‘device bedroom' somewhere in the kitchen that all the devices go to at a certain time each evening. This can be a fun exercise in itself!

  1. BE MORE MINDFUL

Don’t forget to be mindful of what behaviour you are modelling - are you sitting on your phone all the time or checking for messages mid-conversation? Is your phone by your side at all times? Screen-free time is something the whole family needs to commit to and everyone will reap the benefits!

We hope you have picked up some tips and tricks for managing screen-time in your house. If you have more great ideas let us know by commenting below!

References:

Hancox et al. 2004. Association between child and adolescent television viewing and adult health: a longitudinal birth cohort study. The Lancet. V 364, No 9430, p257-262.
Roberts et al. 2012. The advertised diet: an example of the extent and nature of food advertising on Australian TV. Health Promotion Journal of Australia. V 24 (2) p137-142.
Harvard Health Publishing. 2017. Blue Light at night has a dark side.

Further reading: 

Sydney Children’s Hospital Network Screen time fact sheet

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