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How to Schedule Alternative Activities to Limit Kids’ Screen Time

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schedule alternative activities

Every time you turn around, your kids are staring at a smartphone or screen. Of course, they like playing video games, texting with friends, watching television, and surfing the internet on the computer. But that can become much lost time without interacting or participating in physical activity.

There are ways to reduce your children’s screen time. Parents need to understand the importance of setting rules and reducing screen time by limiting when children can use the computer, TV, and smartphone. One way to do this is to suggest alternative activities that you can schedule on your online calendar to reduce screen time.

Here are ways to reduce the time your children spend on technology screens and alternative activities to consider.

Time For a Family Meeting

The first step to getting everyone on board with new rules for technology is to hold a family meeting. You should explain why it is essential to establish rules for the family about tech use. This is an excellent time to note that the goal is for everyone to sit less and move more. Tech use isn’t a reward or punishment but a form of entertainment with limits. For example, young children can use a cell phone for kids that doesn’t come with the internet, social media, or games.

The idea here is to explain that these rules are intended to improve your time together. As a family, everyone must commit to limiting screen time. There may be some exceptions, such as using the computer for homework or work. That does not count against your entertainment time. But everyone in the family, including adults, must be held to the same standard.

Set Screen Time Limits and Stick to Them

A house rule must limit the amount of screen time spent on smartphones, TVs, and video games. Health experts recommend two hours a day, but you can set your own limits. Maybe it is one hour. Perhaps you decide three hours is appropriate for your family. Whatever you decide, the entire family must be on board to keep screen time down to a finite time. Schedule these times on your online calendar and ensure everyone sticks to them.

Once the rule is established, make sure you follow it. Children know when their parents are not practicing what they preach. They will follow your lead. Make sure everyone knows the penalty for breaking the rule. Decide if they must pay into a family entertainment fund or lose tech privileges.

Encourage Completing Chores for Screen Time

If your child is old enough to take advantage of screen time, they likely are old enough to handle chores. Establish a set of chores for your child around the house. Schedule the time they work on them on your online calendar and when they complete them. Performing these chores helps the family, offers an alternative to staring at a screen, and provides an opportunity to reward your child.

Consider offering them a bit more screen time if they go above and beyond with chores. But be careful. The idea here is to reduce screen time, so try not to offer ways to increase it too much.

Create Family Time for Physical Activities

A great way to reduce your family’s screen time is to find alternative physical activities. For example, you can plan family walks or visit the community pool. Start a family bowling night or an exercise challenge. Find a way to offer alternative activities to your children that will reduce their dependence on screen time.

You can track the amount of time spent on physical activities and tech use each week on your online calendar. Consider the hours spent watching TV, playing video games, and using the computer. Compare that to the time spent doing physical activities. Chances are you’ll find the screen time surpasses the time doing physical activities. If so, meet as a family to discuss ways you can increase your physical activities.

Not all physical activities must be done together, although family time is fun. Give your children credit for playing outside with friends. Perhaps your children are involved in sports at school or in the community. Count that, too. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for your time at the gym.

Make Sure Your Children Get Outdoors

An alternative to screen time can be spending more time outdoors. To encourage your child to get out more, look for ways to nurture new hobbies. For example, teach them how to plant and care for a garden. Teach them how to care for your swimming pool. Expose them to the thrill of working on cars, maybe just cleaning them or changing the oil.

You can create a schedule for these outdoor activities in your online calendar and try different things. You might help your child discover a passion that turns into a life-long career.

Engage as You Enjoy Screen Time Together

There are ways to spend family time together while watching television. Plan a movie night together, something everyone will enjoy. Make special treats for the family to ensure that time is special. If you see TV ads for unhealthy foods or promoting new personal devices, discuss those. Help your children understand the difference between junk food and healthy meals.

You can also add physical activities to your tech use. For example, create a competition with push-ups or jumping jacks during commercials. The winner picks the next movie. Inspire your children by doing stretches, yoga, or dumbbell lifts while watching TV. You can increase your family’s time with physical activities while enjoying television together.

Establish “Tech-Free” Zones in Your Home

You decide when and where your children access technology. That means you need rules preventing access to tech in certain areas of your home. For example, ensure there is no tech at the kitchen table for any meal. Meal time is when families can discuss their day and stay connected.

Keep computers and televisions out of bedrooms. This is an excellent way to ensure everyone sticks to the tech time limits. But it also helps you monitor what your children watch and browse. You can also keep smartphones out of bedrooms or require them to be surrendered before bedtime.

Provide Alternatives to Screen Time

Families can do many activities together that don’t require technology. Consider going to a park together. Attend a sporting event together. Encourage your children to try hobbies that occupy their afternoons and weekends, and schedule these activities on your online calendar.

Children can learn to appreciate hobbies at an early age. Take them to a local theater production and ask if they would consider joining a youth theater group. Sign up for an art class and take your child to see if they would enjoy learning more. Offer to pay for music lessons so they can explore learning an instrument.

Other traditional options are to consider, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, school clubs, and volunteering. They teach the value of volunteer service and plant a seed of service that your child will appreciate as an adult.

There are many ways to reduce your family’s screen time. Think of this as an opportunity to build new memories together.

10 Strategies for Reducing Your Screen Time

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On the one hand technology has helped us become way more productive. It’s helped automate repetitive tasks and pinpoint when we’re most productive. There’s also an endless amount of information at our fingertips. And, it’s certainly enhanced how we communicate and collaborate with others.

On the other, it can be distracting and gets in the way of creative thinking. Even more worrisome, some believe that we’re straight-up addicted to technology. And, obviously, that’s not ideal for our mental and physical health.

If you think that I’m being hyperbolic here, just know that back in 2016, it was found that we devote more than 10 hours a day on screen time. Honestly, that shouldn’t be shocking since we’re glued to our computers, TVs, and phones.

Speaking of phones, RescueTime reports that on average, we spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on our phones. Additionally, we pick up our phones 58 times per day. However, because of an increase in WFH and socially distancing due to COVID-19, I would suspect that these figures are much higher.

Obviously, that’s going to disrupt our productivity. More troubling? Too much screen time can cause vision problems, impact our sleep, and encourage a more sedentary lifestyle. It can even lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. The reasons? We’re comparing ourselves to others on social media. And, we’re working too much since we’re always available.

Suffice to say, you need to reduce your screen time. And, that’s totally possible by implementing the following 10 strategies.

1. Track screen time and set time limits.

You’re probably thinking that there’s no way that you’re getting too much screen time. And, since you’re in denial, why would you want to limit your usage?

To avoid maintaining your ignorance is bliss mentality. Make the effort to track how much time you actually spend starring at that glorious blue light. Best of all? There are plenty of tools that will do this for you. And, because they run quietly in the background, you can just keep doing your normal routine.

For example, RescueTime monitors the sites and apps you frequently visit and for how long. TimeCamp, HubStaff, and Toggl are some other options you can use.

If you have an iPhone 12, just turn on the Screen Time function in the Settings app. Android users can do this through the Digital Wellbeing tools located within Settings.

Next, you can use this information and solutions to set time limits. For example, if you’ve found out that you’re spending too much time on Instagram, you can tell your phone to turn the app off after two hours of use.

You can also use this data to create a schedule. Let’s say that you don’t want to be interpreted between 8 am and 10 am since that’s when you’re most productive. You can then block apps and websites and this specific time.

2. Keep your phone out of the bedroom.

“Many of us use our phones as alarm clocks, meaning they are the last thing we see at night,” writes Alex Hern in The Guardian. It’s also “the first thing we see in the morning, perhaps even before our eyes are fully open.” That blue light exposure can impact the quality of our sleep. In fact, according to a 2017 study “social media use in the 30 minutes before bed is independently associated with disturbed sleep among young adults”.

Even if you aren’t scrolling through social media, that blue light exposure will also interfere with the quality of your sleep. Moreover, grabbing your phone when the alarm goes off means you aren’t just turning waking-up. You’re now laying there going through your inbox. As a result, you stay in bed longer than planned and get stressed out about the day.

The solution? Charge your phone in another room and avoid looking at screens at least an hour before bed. And, buy an alarm clock as well.

3. Establish tech-free zones.

You know, that last tip got me thinking. What other places should you designate as “tech-free zones?

In my opinion, the bathroom is on the top of the list. It’s unhygienic and just distracts you from doing your business and moving on. I’d also say the dining room or anywhere else you eat. Again, it’s gross and you can use this time more wisely like having quality time with your family or getting to know your team members better.

4. Leave your phone behind.

If you were to contact me during off-hours, like during the evening or weekends, it’s going to take hours for me to respond. You might not even hear from me until the next day or two.

I’m not ignoring you. It’s just that my phone isn’t by my side. For example, if decided to go on a hike my phone is probably in the car — or at least in silent mode and tucked away in my backpack. Even if I’m just kicking back and reading, the phone is nowhere near me.

For some people, this may frighten them because of FOMO. But, in all seriousness, if you gradually work your way up, you’ll notice that the world will keep spinning if you occasionally leave your phone behind.

5. Remove unnecessary apps.

When you have a couple of minutes, go through your phone and remove the unnecessary ones. For instance, if you only use social media for work, then uninstall them. The same goes for Netflix, Hulu, or any other app that tempts you into mindless usage.

6. Switch to grayscale.

Both iOS and Android allow you to turn your phone’s display grey. As a result, this will remove all the beautiful colors from your screen.

Why is this successful in curving your phone addiction? Because now they’ve lost their visual appeal.

For iPhone users, head into Settings. Next, select Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Color Filters. And, finally, toggle the switch on so that the Grayscale option appears.

Android users can do this by opening up the Setting panels and going into Digital Wellbeing. Chose Wind Down and you can either turn Grayscale on now or schedule it for a later time.

7. Schedule more face-to-face meetings.

I know that Zoom and video calls are all the rage. And, while they’ve been helpful, they also cause fatigue.

Instead, set up an old fashioned phone call. Or, even better, schedule a face-to-face meeting.

“In-person meetings provide a sense of intimacy, connection and empathy that is difficult to replicate via video,” Paul Axtell, corporate trainer and author of the book “Meetings Matter.” told The Washington Post. “It’s much easier to ask for attentive listening and presence, which creates the psychological safety that people need to sense in order to engage and participate fully.”

Even more impressive? Face-to-face requests are 34x more effective than emailed ones.

8. Take a look, it’s in a book.

Back when I was a wee lad, my parents purchased a really nice Encyclopedia Britannica set. I used these books from elementary to high school whenever I needed to look up a piece of information. For more in-depth research, the local library was already an excellent resource. Or, I would ask my elders to answer questions.

Believe it not, books and libraries are still in existence. I know it’s fast and convenient to use your phone or ask your smart device to answer a question. But, instead of relying solely on technology, seek out other ways to access information.

9. Don’t take as many pictures.

For most of us, this has become second-nature. Regardless if you’re at a birthday party, sporting event, concert, or traveling you take an excessive amount of pictures. Why is that a problem? Well, three different studies have found that photo-taking interferes with making new memories.

That’s not saying that you have to be anti-picture. It’s just that you don’t have to over snap. Instead, enjoy the moment by leaving your phone elsewhere.

10. Pick-up a new hobby.

I’ve been guilty of this in the past. It’s a Saturday afternoon and the weather isn’t nice enough to go outside. I’ve already cleaned the house and did a little work. But, now I’m getting bored. What do I do? Instinctively grab my phone or laptop and just start browsing.

To combat this, pick-up a new hobby that doesn’t require much screen time. Reading a book, any type of physical activity, or crafts are tech-free hobbies to engage with during downtime.

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