Screen Less

Things to do with your kids that don’t involve a smart phone, TV or iPad

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times: my son’s face bent over an iPad or smartphone or computer. If you’re a parent, you’ve likely seen your kid’s face staring into a screen more often than you’d care to admit.

Screen-addiction is not worthy of a news flash. But over the past few years, researchers have been able to gather conclusive data on how excessive screen time affects children’s mental and emotional health.

A 2018 study conducted on eighth, 10th and 12th graders and published in the journal Emotion states, “After rising since the early 1990s, adolescent self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness plunged after 2012, the year smartphone ownership reached the 50 percent mark in the United States.”

It also found that “…adolescents’ psychological well-being decreased the more hours a week they spent on screens, including with the Internet, social media, texting, gaming and video chats.”

Though the study focuses on teens, I’ve witnessed attitude changes in my own 9-year-old after too much screen time. Especially when I try to pry the iPad from his strong monster grips.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some phone. Twitter is basically my lullaby every night and my hand makes “holding phone” pose even when I’m not holding it.

Screens are easy babysitters. They make car rides quiet. They make quick reference and learning tools. They are cameras. And sometimes, it feels easier to hand my son a flashy device than to—GASP!—deal with him.

I didn’t become a parent because it is easy. And I certainly didn’t become a parent because I am more interested in what strangers on Facebook have to say versus what’s on the mind of my own offspring. Sometimes we just need a reminder of simple non-screen alternatives. I asked Maine moms what non-screen activities their families enjoy and what really engages their kids. Here’s what they said:

“We do a scavenger hunt around the house for random stuff,” says Kate Litton. “I make lists—words for the 8-year-old, pictures for the 5-year-old—and then they get to stay up 15 minutes later than usual if they find everything.”

Allyson Olson says her kids play a game called “Add On.” “They each get a notebook and then start telling a story sentence by sentence… ‘There was a guy’…and then they each draw it privately in a notebook. Next kid says, ‘Who was under a tree,’ and they each draw that. They take turns telling the story and adding on, and both keep drawing and then, at the end, it is a reveal to see if their ‘imaginations lined up.’”

“Dance Party” was a popular answer; few kids can resist loud music and permission to bounce on the couch.

Other responses: Reading aloud, particularly classic books, Maine writers or imagination-sparking reads like Harry Potter. Even better if you get to read in a giant living room fort.

Anything with walkie-talkies; gardening and foraging; cooking; knitting; jewelry making.

Podcasts, audiobooks and Mad Libs are favorite car trip distractions. I mean, any excuse to teach that “fart” is a verb and a noun, right?

For the slime lovers: Totally Gross, a science game that teaches the chemistry of boogers and why dad’s breath smells.

And one of the most important activities in our quest for less screen time, is to show your kids their baby pictures. Photo books are treasures you can use to tell them hilarious stories from their toddler years or tell them about their first day of school.

And on the most basic level: Get outside. Let the sun hit you in the face, not the back of your head.

Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.

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