published Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Baumgardner: Summer memories shouldn’t just involve staring at a screen

By Julie Baumgardner

Think back to summers when you were a kid. Many will recall getting up, doing a few chores, then heading outside to play, only taking a break for lunch. Your mom or dad’s call for dinner was followed by complaints from you, asking if you really had to come inside.

In an informal survey of adults about their summer memories as a child, people recalled catching fireflies, climbing trees, fishing, playing outside with friends, riding bikes, running through the sprinkler and lots of other activities that did not involve a screen. As people thought about their response to the question, usually a smile would come to their face and laughter followed as the memories replayed in their mind.

Fast forward to 2014, and most would agree that times have dramatically changed. Instead of spending time playing outside, a variety of studies indicate many children will get up and head straight to some type of screen — TV, computer, tablet. In fact, children between 8 and 10 years of age spend on average between five and seven hours playing games, watching movies or television. For teens, the number increases. This is a stark contrast to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children 10 and older spend no more than two hours a day watching a screen.

Many have heard that too much screen time can lead to greater risk of children having trouble sleeping at night, experiencing attention issues as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that, not only do children eat more while watching screens, what they eat is typically not healthy and can lead to weight gain.

While many parents are tired of this battle, it is definitely one worth fighting. When children move away from screens and interact with others, it helps them develop communication skills along with learning how to get along with others and problem solve when there is disagreement over the score of a kickball game. Play helps build a child’s imagination and enhances their ability to entertain themselves.

So here’s a summer challenge. Unplug from the screens and encourage your kids to find others ways to spend their time. You will undoubtedly get the usual initial push back, but stand your ground, knowing you are setting the stage for your children to create some great summertime memories. If they come to you and complain about being bored, offer them several things that need to be done around the house. Chances are good that they will come up with something to do in order to avoid doing chores, teaching your child not to rely on you to come up with ways to entertain them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics actually says that doing nothing at all is better than staring at a screen. For example, car rides without DVDs allow a child to look at their surroundings and let their imagination run wild.

While unplugging might not be the most convenient thing to do, think of it as part of your intentional preparation for launching your child. The things they will have the opportunity to learn by moving away from screens are necessary skills that will help them navigate through life. Who’s up for the challenge?

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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