Screens have become an unavoidable part of everyday life, so how do we make sure our children don’t spend too much time on their tablets, TV, computer, games console or phone?
Sunflower has developed a six-point checklist to help you ensure your family can get the balance right.
You may think trying to prise your child from their screen is going to be a battle, but the child health experts at Sunflower believe its six screen substitutes will encourage them to make other choices sometimes.
Try asking your child to choose between…
Sport or sofa
Children should be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Offer your child a trip to the park, a cycle ride, a visit to the swimming pool or just a fun kick-about in the garden as an alternative to sitting on the sofa with their tablet; you might be surprised by their answer!
Socialising or solitude
Your time is one of the best things you can give to your children – helping them build up good behaviour, self-esteem, learning ability, social skills and general happiness and wellbeing. If you can clear some time to play a game with them/chat/read or another activity, the chances are they will take you up on the offer. Inviting their friends round regularly is another way of ensuring they don’t always live in that virtual world.
Sunshine or screen
Okay, so the sun might not always be shining and the outdoors is not always appealing in the winter, but leaving the house is really important for your child’s healthy development. Rain or shine, younger children love jumping in puddles and older children will love learning how to build a campfire or setting up food and habitats for birds and insects.
If it’s too wet to get out, even a trip to the supermarket can be made to sound more appealing. For example older children could pick a recipe and then help shop for the ingredients. Younger children can take part in a ‘treasure hunt’ to find items from a list.
Seeing or straining
Too much screen time is not good for their eyesight. Behavioural optometrist Clare Holland explains: “Staring at a screen requires prolonged focussing effort in order to keep the pictures clear and that effort leads to the flexible crystalline lens in the eye to be changed in shape such that it is more rounded. This can almost make the focussing ‘spasm’, so that it doesn’t just relax again instantly at the end of a long session. This can lead to long distance vision appearing more blurred, as well triggering headaches in some children.”
Give your child options for using their eyes to focus in different ways – they all love using binoculars and magnifying glasses. Microscopes make another great project and can be combined with going outdoors to collect things to look study.
Sympathy or swords
Computer games often include violence and you may see the results of this if your child spends too long playing them. Invite them to take part in some kinder and calmer activities such as:
- Make a kindness card for someone they love or a friend or teacher
- Make a bird feeder
- Help you to make a family’s member’s favourite dinner
- Organise all their unwanted toys to donate to charity
Sleeping or swiping
Sunflower’s child health experts have a simple message – keep screens out of the bedroom and the bedtime routine. Vicki Dawson, founder of The Children’s Sleep Charity, agrees: “Our advice is that there should be no screen activities in the hour leading up to bedtime.” If they don’t always want to read or hear a story, have a game of top trumps instead or play a good old fashioned game of hangman. Try a funny drawing game: folded paper where you both draw a head, then swap and draw body, then legs, then feet – the results are hilarious. Ask your child to suggest the activity they would like to do with you each evening.
Do you worry about your child’s development or the amount of time they spend on screens? Sunflower has seen hundreds of children – many with diagnosed health, behavioural, emotional or learning difficulties, others who are underachieving at school and some, who for no obvious reason, need a little extra support.
If your child is struggling to cope, or you feel they need extra support with their any area of their life, contact the Sunflower Programme: 01483 531498.