American children under the age of eight spend over two hours on average in front of a screen each day, and 35 percent of this screen time takes place on a mobile device.
You don’t have to be a parent for long before you’re bombarded with articles and podcasts telling you that screen time — the time your child spends in front of electronic and digital media — can be harmful to their development. With so much noise surrounding this issue, it’s challenging to understand the problem.
So is it really as bad as everyone says? If so, how can you implement alternatives that your children — and you — can live with?
How Much Screen Time Is Okay for Kids?
Although two hours a day may not seem like much, screen time for younger children can be especially problematic. Screen time has been shown to encourage children to lead a more sedentary lifestyle. When children aren’t active, they’re at a higher risk for obesity, which can lead to several health problems. The tendency to mindlessly eat while watching television can also contribute to the higher risk of being overweight.
Too much screen time can get in the way of a child’s social and emotional development as well. When children are in front of the television, they aren’t interacting with siblings, friends or their parents. They aren’t developing their ability to carry on a conversation, cooperate while playing together or share. Of course, educational television tries to incorporate these practices into their shows for children to learn, but children also need the chance to put them into practice to truly grasp them.
Limiting screen time is also essential because of the programming available for children. Kids shows are not all created equal — even shows that are written with kids in mind may not be appropriate, and without regular adult supervision, your child may stumble onto shows or videos not intended for someone their age. There’s also the chance they’ll find content not intended for children at all. Almost 80 percent of parents are alarmed by the level of violence and sexual content in the media today. Most cable outlets and streaming services do offer certain controls to limit what children are exposed to, but these aren’t always enough.
7 Alternatives to Screen Time
There’s nothing wrong with 30 minutes of television or YouTube here or there. But limiting screen time is essential to a child’s development and physical well-being. Many parents of preschoolers are afraid to limit screen time because they’re afraid their children will be upset or complain about being bored. But, finding entertaining alternatives to screen time for toddlers or preschoolers doesn’t have to be difficult. Looking for the best alternative activities to screen time? Take a look at these ideas.
1. Play With Play Dough
It’s easy to find fun activities instead of screen time. And, it’s not time consuming or expensive. One of our favorites is the beloved childhood classic — Play Dough. If you’re in the habit of encouraging screen time while you’re cooking dinner or folding a load of laundry, Play Dough is a great way to keep your little one busy and independent. Besides being fun, manipulating play dough helps children develop fine motor skills and creativity.
2. Read Together
When you read to your preschooler, it stimulates the part of their brain that’s responsible for language processing. It also helps introduce them to words they might not encounter in everyday conversation, expanding their vocabulary. In this busy world, it’s also a great way to slow down and spend a few minutes cuddling with your child after a busy day.
3. Encourage Outdoor Play
There’s no better way to encourage your child’s mental and physical development than having them play outdoors. Many parents encourage outdoor play because it wears their child out, but do you know why your child is tired after they’ve been outside? Outdoor play engages muscles all over the body. Even something as simple as swinging or jumping over a log engages your child’s muscles and promotes strength, balance and development. Running is an excellent way to keep their cardiovascular system strong. If your child is playing outside with other children, it’s also a mentally stimulating time because they’re learning to take turns, share toys and engage with others.
Young children can also enjoy nature walks around the neighborhood, bike rides and visits to a local playground or botanical garden.
4. Cook Together
If you’re in the habit of encouraging screen time while preparing a meal, try inviting your child to join you in the kitchen and help prepare the meal instead. Even young children can dump a can of soup into a pan — before the burner is turned on — or dump ingredients into a bowl under your supervision. It may take a little bit longer to prepare dinner, but your child will be engaged in the process. And, if you’re the parent of a picky eater, engaging your child in preparing their own meal may curb some of their picky tendencies.
5. Have a Family Game Night
Rather than watching a movie on Friday night, opt for family game night instead. Choose age-appropriate games that will engage your child and get the whole family laughing together. Board games are also a great way to encourage your child’s language development and practice skills like counting, color recognition and hand-eye coordination.
6. Turn up the Music for a Dance Party
Turn on some tunes and let your kids get moving! Music is fun and relaxing at the same time. It engages the senses, brings people together and — depending on the music you choose — can create calm when your child isn’t. It’s also a great way to bond. If you aren’t big on dancing, find a song you both love and sing at the top of your lungs.
7. Do Some Arts and Crafts
The word “crafts” has been known to strike fear into the hearts of parents — but we’re not talking about Pinterest-worthy art here. Even something simple, like asking your child to draw a picture of a beloved friend or family member can engage their creative side. If you want to do more, you can keep a stock of paper, crayons and other craft supplies to pull out and inspire your little Picasso. Need more inspiration? The Internet is full of easy and inexpensive ideas.
Discover Even More Screen-Free Fun at Haymarket Children’s Academy
As a parent, you want the best for your child. You want them to be happy, healthy and well-adjusted. You want them to engage in a variety of activities and experiences that will stimulate their bodies and minds. You also understand the importance of limiting screen time in kids, and so do we. At Haymarket Children’s Academy, we’re committed to supporting Gainsville, VA parents and their children. Our curriculum encourages a broad range of activities designed to aid and promote your child’s physical, mental and emotional development.
We offer infant through kindergarten programs, and we’re always ready to welcome new faces. Contact us to schedule a tour today!