Momsense: How to get your kids to turn off their screens

A half hour of TV while eating breakfast in the
morning; texting on the way home from school;
beat a couple of levels on the latest game console;
homework on the laptop; update status on
Facebook.

When all is said and done, Canadian kids
are averaging 40 hours of screen time a week,
according to Concerned Children’s Advertisers
(CCA). Each piece of technology is a part of the
wired world our kids are growing up in. It’s
second nature for children to gravitate to these
devices and forms of communication. And for
the most part, that’s a good thing.

What’s not so good about it, is that excessive
screen time leads to an increasingly sedentary
lifestyle. Human beings need to move to be
healthy. Yet, only nine percent of boys and four
percent of girls meet the daily requirement
of 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This
has contributed to the doubling of Canadian
childhood obesity rates over the last 15 years.

As parents, we may not realize it’s within our
control to re-focus our kids – especially young
children – onto other activities. Bev Deeth,
president of CCA, likes to refer to parents as the
CEOs of the household. They can set the tone for both good and bad habits. “As mother to two
girls aged 15 and 13, I live it every day,” says Bev.
“We know parents are role models, so you want
to establish good habits early on.”

CCA is an industry-funded, not-for-profit
organization dedicated to researching and
addressing important issues relating to the social,
emotional and physical well-being of Canadian
children. Their website (longlivekids.ca) is a
wealth of information for both parents and
kids alike. They’re not kidding about screen time
– after 20 minutes on its website, the screen goes
blank and a message pops up asking you to go
outside or eat a healthy snack!

Tips for turning off screens

  • Emphasize non-structured play, such as
    walking the dog as a family. Walking not only
    provides exercise, but is a great opportunity to
    connect with kids. No excuses for bad weather!
  • Crank up the tunes and have a spontaneous
    dance party. 
  • Remember, every child is unique. You might
    have to experiment with some trial and error
    activities to see what each one enjoys. Not
    everyone is sporty and that’s okay! 
  • Keep the computer in a central area of the
    house, where you make the rules and and can
    monitor use. 
  • Dinner is the best time of day to connect with
    family and check in to see how everyone is
    doing. With busy schedules, even if eating
    dinner together must be late or brief, it’s better
    than nothing.

Baby steps

CCA created a pilot project to explore if an online
game could motivate kids to be more active. How?
By using a pedometer as an incentive. The more
steps racked onto their pedometer, the more points
they had to play with. The points are used in the
game in physical challenges and to help them learn
about nutrition. The Living Experience found that
the game had a profoundly positive effect on the
most physically inactive girls. Researchers at the
University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and
Physical Activity say inactive girls are some of the
hardest to motivate to be active, so the findings
were particularly interesting. Phase Two of the pilot
project involves First Nations communities.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

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