I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Wellesley Pubic School Health and Wellness Fair and gave a presentation on Balancing Screen Time and Outdoor Play. This is a summary of some of the main ideas I came away with.
Screen Use is Going Up and Time Spent Outdoors is Going Down
Surprisingly, the amount of research done on the effects of screens aren’t abundant, but research is clear that physical activity and time spent outdoors are going down for virtually all age groups, while screen times are increasing. The Canadian Paediatric Society suggest specific limits on screen time (1 hour for those 2-5 years) while their UK counterpart does not – although they do recommend setting limits without giving a specific time. At least asking whether screen time is interfering with other aspects of life, such as adequate physical activity and nutrition, sleep and family activities is prudent. The 24 hour movement guidelines set some targets for physical activity. Below is the guideline for 5-17 year old’s (https://csepguidelines.ca/):
Negatives (and Positives) of Screen Time
Screens can have positive effects if used judiciously and with quality content and adult engagement (co-viewing). However there is no evidence pointing to any benefits worthy of early introduction of screens. Impaired language development, reduced physical activity, poor diet, decreased ability to self regulate and increased risk of depression and anxiety are among some negatives that have been associated with high screen use.
Specific Benefits of Being Outdoors
While we know a broad range of benefits of being physically active, there is also research that demonstrates there are numerous benefits to being outside in nature. This includes the fact that just being outdoors lends to being more physically active, but the outdoors also help build resilience and
Parent Screen Time is the Biggest Predictor of Child Screen Time
This speaks for itself. Even though we may sometimes think our children don’t ‘listen’ to us – they see and hear everything we do. We must be mindful of our own screen use and how it impacts their behaviours as well as our interactions with them. Even though I don’t consider myself a ‘heavy’ phone user (at least in terms of total time), I was shocked at how often I ‘checked’ my phone. There are many free apps you can download to monitor and in some cases limit your own phone use. Moment for iPhones and Quality Time for Android phones are two of the more popular.
Things to Consider in a ‘Media Plan’ for your Family
The best way to get kids interested in the outdoors is to model the behaviour yourself. Scheduling regular family time in the outdoors can make it a routine part of life. Of course it is not always that easy. Below are some ways to engage kids with the outdoors:
In addition to setting limits on time, two ideas came up frequently as ways enhance the positives and reduce the negatives of screens