Kids and electronics today often seem like a match made in heaven as they preoccupy our kids for hours on end while we catch up on rest, cleaning … or our own guilty pleasures.
But, most of us know the potentially addictive nature of electronics and would rather not have our babies overindulge at such early ages. It is also an opportunity to introduce healthy moderation to our young ones at an important, developmental point in their lives.
Electronics usage and health risks for children
Young children should not have electronic devices in their bedrooms or other private areas. Allowing electronics in the bedroom often leads to sleep deprivation, which is a growing concern for children in this country. According to a new study led by Harvard pediatrician Elsie Taveras, parents and teachers found significant differences in the responses to surveys regarding executive function — attention, working memory, reasoning, and problem-solving — and behavioral problems in 7-year-old children depending on how much sleep they regularly received at younger ages.
“We found that children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school-age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral function at around age 7.”
Elsie Taveras, pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School and chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children
Electronic devices should be used in moderation
Moderation starts with access. Keep these devices only in designated areas such as a living room. Also, do not allow electronic devices at the dinner table, as this is family’s best opportunity for mutual bonding on a daily basis.
Also, don’t use electronic device usage as a reward! This further enhances perception of this as a huge positive. And you’ll also quickly find yourself allowing them far more time indulging than originally scheduled.
How to promote healthier alternatives
If you ask me, this is so much easier than most of us think (unless your kid is already heavily addicted to games and such). What kid doesn’t like swimming, riding bikes or playing kickball? It’s true that getting lost in a computer screen in the next room is the pathway of least resistance; the main reason why parents often give into this lifestyle. After all, swimming will probably cost you 2-3 hours of your valuable spare time. Bike riding also requires constant supervision to get our young ones started. A kickball game may cost you even more in effort to recruit the neighbors.
However, like anything else, these kind of activities require less and less effort on your part as good habits are developed, teams are recruited and kids get a little older and more independent. In other words, the time you invest early pays big dividends down the road.
Here in northern Ohio, we have amazing metro parks that supply endless year round, FREE (or nearly free) activities such as hiking, kayaking, swimming, sled riding, ice skating, picnicking, beach bumming and more. All of these (really fun!) outdoor activities allow kids to unwind the anxiety they build up online. They’ll also make new friends – friends that are also participating in healthier activities. And you probably will as well.
How to find these activities
Wherever you live, there are most likely many more free outdoor activities available to you then you realize. Do this Google search, “(your city), free outdoor activities”. You’ll find links from local visitor centers and publications competing for the best “Top Ten” list.
Start with these free activities and try to sprinkle in some things that are a small investment, but with big rewards: A trip to the zoo. A bicycle. And wait for it… a camping trip!
A final thought
If you’re serious about getting your young ones integrated into a healthier lifestyle that’s less dependent upon electronics, it will have to begin with yourself. Kids imitate parental behaviors and you may find that you’re spending much more time on electronic devices than you’ve realize.
And, what adult doesn’t like swimming, riding bikes or playing kickball? The all around benefits to your own wellbeing may be the most surprising of all.
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