How to Minimize Your Kids’ Screen Time This Winter

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It’s not impossible to keep your kids away from their screens and free of boredom during the winter.

No one looks forward to winter (and its seasonal breaks) quite like your kids. However, after the initial joy of that first snow wears off, boredom inevitably sets in.

It also doesn’t help that this time of year tends to include plenty of cold, dark, and gloomy days – meaning playing outside becomes less and less enticing. This makes it easy for your kids to become mindless zombies in front of tablet and phone screens, which is likely to increase stress levels throughout your home.

The debate around how much screen time kids should have has become long-winded.

The latest generation of kids is facing an addiction with which neither we nor our parents ever really had to deal. We didn’t grow up in the dark ages by any means, but as the world of technology becomes more advanced, it also becomes more of a struggle to walk away from.

In a 48 hour experiment, parents Angie and Chad Harding allowed their four children unlimited screen time – no rules, no limits, a free-for-all. The results were shocking, and even some of the kids themselves related that while they did continue to pick up their tablets and other devices, it was mostly out of boredom or habit. Even the younger Harding kids racked up quite the level of screen time, with the 9-year-old spending 46 hours total on screens.

Of course, while it is shocking to see the numbers, it really isn’t that surprising as most of us are aware that younger children don’t quite have that impulse control yet. Younger kids cling to the instant gratification technology gives them. Luckily, as kids get older they tend to have a bit more self-control, but that doesn’t stop them from spending way too much time on their smart devices – especially social media.

Social media is a double-edged sword for kids.

According to Rutgers, there is a growing connection between social media and our well-being. They point out that while social media does provide a venue for kids and adults alike to express themselves (fostering more self-esteem and a sense of personal identity), it can also create feelings of loneliness, jealous, and anxiety.

Checking social media regularly has been shown to also disrupt teens’ sleep patterns which can lead to depressive symptoms and issues. Consider this winter the perfect opportunity to keep your kids away from their screens and free of boredom.

The Dangers of Distraction

First, it’s important to acknowledge kids use their phones and other smart devices differently depending on their age. As mentioned earlier, older kids are typically more socially engaged online with popular apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

This engagement with their friends becomes a top priority for your typical teen – which is fair considering friendships mean a lot at this age. However, while it’s important for your kids to cultivate relationships and social skills, there is a time and place, and unfortunately, the distraction of social media and smart devices has become more and more dangerous.

This dangerous habit falls on adults as well. Consider teens and younger kids going throughout their day looking down at their phones. While it’s worth admiring the carefree attitude kids have, their safety should always be number one priority.

It’s important to talk with your kids regularly about the dangers of distracted drivers as well as explaining to them that listening to music, texting, or playing games while walking and crossing streets is equally dangerous. Sadly, many kids are killed by cars, and a lot of these incidents stem from the distraction of smart devices both for drivers and pedestrians.

Furthermore, given your typical icy roads, cars may have a hard time stopping, making crosswalks extra dangerous. This winter, make it a point to converse with your kids and reinforce the boundaries you’ve set for them regarding their screens while outside the house, as well as the importance of always being vigilant.

Getting Creative To Get Them Off Their Screens

Now that the serious part is over, getting creative with ways to get your kids off their phones and tablets might seem tricky. However, it is possible to find alternatives to boredom while also being practical. For example, especially cold winter days bring the perfect excuse to get your kids started on a new musical instrument or trying new science experiments.

We’ve all read the studies explaining how learning an instrument has a lot of positive effects on kids. As experts at Hear The Music Play put it, “The best musical instruments for kids can promote listening and focusing. Also, playing an instrument enhances self-esteem and self-expression.”

However, as they go on to further explain, it’s worth being picky, “If you start your child with the wrong instrument, they may not want to play any instrument at all.”

While you might groan at that thought of giving your 9-year-old a ukulele, it’s important to note that not only will they have fun learning to play songs from their favorite movies, but it’s an educational experience that at the very least can get them off their phone for an hour or so.

Another idea to try, weather permitting, are unique winter outdoor games and experiments. While nothing can beat a classic snowman building session, these days the web is full of some fun winter activities. For example, consider building a winter bonfire and enjoying s’mores or roasted chestnuts.

You could also get artsy with a simple mixture of food coloring and water in a spray bottle, and let the kids make their own paintings in the snow. On those really cold days, bundle up and blow bubbles – the temperature causes the bubbles to freeze, which results in a fascinating science experiment. Whatever you decide, the kids will be off their phones and making memories – which is a win-win.

When kids are glued to their screens, it may seem impossible to keep them connected with the real world – especially during the cold and snowy season. Of course, kids do deserve some downtime every now and then, but encouraging them to spend it doing something a bit more worthwhile not only helps keep them safe, but makes these winters at home a bit more memorable.

They’ll reflect back on the times you all took a tour of Christmas lights, told stories around the fire, and built snow forts more than their score on the latest mobile game app.

Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @ataylorian with any questions or suggestions.

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