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Peel your children away from their screens

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, May 18, 2013, at 5:29 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

When it comes to lazy summer days, there’s the old-fashioned, Norman Rockwell scene: jump ropes, hopscotch, bicycles and lemonade stands.

And then there’s modern reality: televisions, computers and video games.

It’s no secret that today’s children spend shocking amounts of time looking at screens – more than seven hours a day, according to a January 2010 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That can lead to a higher incidents of childhood obesity, more aggressive behavior and academic deficiencies. Most experts agree it’s worthwhile, if not crucial, to limit children’s screen time.

Here are some strategies:

•  Set a good example. Joshua Becker, blogger at Becoming Minimalist , writes in his “12 Steps to Help Limit Your Child’s Screen Time” that “there is nowhere else to start.”

“Children will always gravitate toward the modeled behaviors of their parents,” Becker writes. “If they see you reading a book, they are more likely to read. And if they see you watching television, so will they.”

•  Set specific limits. Avoid vague directives such as, “Don’t be on that computer all day” or “I wish you wouldn’t play so many video games.” Instead, set specific limits on screen time – an hour a day, for example – and stick to it.

• Use a timer. We all know how quickly time can fly while we’re watching television, playing a game or surfing the web. Use a kitchen timer, alarm clock or other device to keep track and alert children when each video game or computer session is up. For young children, consider visual devices like the Time Timer, which show time elapsing and makes it easy for them to see how much time is left.

•  Sign a Tech Timeout pledge. The Tech Timeout Challenge, launched by Foresters, a North American life insurance provider, encourages families to take a daily break from electronic devices and reconnect with one another. You can find out more information and download the pledge at – ironically – TechTimeout.com or at the Tech Timeout page on Facebook.

•  Keep them busy. Venues and organizations throughout the Wichita area offer camps, classes and other special events geared to your child’s interests. Browse The Eagle’s online guide – www.kansas.com/summeractivities/ – to find more than 400 options. Encourage older kids to get a part-time job.

•  Make screen time a reward, not a default. Encourage children to “earn” screen time by completing chores, reading or taking part in physical activities. For example: Every 30 minutes of reading gets them 10 minutes of screen time. Use marbles, clothespins or some other type of marker to keep track.

• Plan outings. Visit museums, parks, art galleries, the zoo and other destinations. Even everyday errands such as a trip to the grocery store keeps kids active, engaged and away from screens.

•  Consider “bridge books.” Most local bookstores sell workbooks designed to keep kids learning between grades. They feature games, puzzles, reading lists, science experiments and other activities that review skills and preview the grade ahead.

•  Encourage other activities. Help your child explore music by signing him up for lessons or attending free concerts. Have a yard sale. Play cards. Bake cookies. Play board games. Walk the dog. Write letters or postcards to friends or family members.

• Recognize that screens aren’t all bad. Of course you don’t want your child to spend her entire summer glued to a screen, but there’s no need to go cold turkey. There’s plenty of educational fare on television. Every so often, watch shows together and discuss them. Similarly, there are lots of free educational websites for kids, including Kahn Academy, PBSKids.org, FunBrain.com and the New York Times Learning Network.

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