In our house, only I know the answer to this question. Because I hid it. I hid the remote. I’ve also hidden the tablet, the ipad, and the laptop. I’ve taken this drastic measure because I’ve seen what happens when my kids get too much screen time. They become incredibly lethargic and irritable. They are more likely to fight with each other, and less able to make decisions for themselves when they’ve spent too long engrossed in useless programming (watching other people play Minecraft is the absolute worst). So I hide the remote. They are forced to figure out something else to do.
When screens are not an option for kids, an amazing transformation takes place. They play! Children learn, develop, and grow into adulthood through play. Without a screen, they start using their imagination; learning foundational social, motor, cognitive and communication skills in the process. Creativity comes to life, and a paper towel roll is now a sword to slay an imaginary dragon. The floor turns into hot lava, and they problem solve how to move their bodies to get from one room to the other without touching the floor. They play legos with each other, building and creating. They perform shows, coming up with elaborate storylines that build their communication skills. They make up their own games, deciding on their own rules and resolving conflicts when one of them is “out”. Playing with friends from the neighborhood, they learn about empathy, taking turns, and saying “I’m sorry”.
We need these skills as adults. But it all starts with our play in childhood. Too much screen time takes that opportunity away. Physical therapists like myself are always advocating for more playtime. Especially physical play. Children should be running, jumping, climbing, riding their bikes and exploring. When sedentary screen time takes the place of physical play, we see kids who are clumsy and uncoordinated with poor core strength and motor planning. Not many, but some schools even seem to be paying attention to the research that says that increased physical activity goes hand in hand with increased focus and learning in the classroom, leading them to extend recess.
The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics have slightly different guidelines on screens for kids but the basic message is the same….less screen time and more physical play time. This is no simple feat for parents, myself included. I’m a physical therapist, not a parenting expert. I don’t know the best way to limit screen time, but I do know that it has to be done. In the spirit of putting away our screens, I’ll put mine down right now, so that you can too!