Most of us in the thick of child-rearing years had the great fortune of growing up with a childhood that didn't involve TVs in every room, watching YouTube videos of kids opening eggs with toys in them, or tablet time limits. I can only assume that if you are reading a parenting blog, you turned out pretty well.
According to research recently shared at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, a childhood with technology at the forefront could lead to learning difficulties, a lack of social communication development, and the absence of what it's like to feel bored … not on my watch; that just ain't right! (I hope you are able to pick up on my strategically-placed humor to lighten the mood.)
I'm not saying to trash the computers and iPads in favor of reading books by candlelight. I'm just saying (urging, pleading) to be mindful of the role that technology plays in your child's life. Here are some tips to establish a low-tech childhood for your cherubs.
- Get out of the house each morning. It's easy to get bored AND sucked into a TV show, movie, or tablet when there aren't any plans to leave the house. Even on days we don't have an appointment to go to or an errand to run, we'll go outside to check the mail, then take a walk around the neighborhood or play in the backyard. Schedule technology time for the afternoon or evening—after lots of other things have been experienced and accomplished. You may find that the less technology is offered as an option, the less your child(ren) will ask for it.
Have lots of non-technological options in the main rooms—creative play opportunities like a play kitchen or train set, arts and crafts, and, of course, books. I know it's super easy for your living room to turn into a glorified play room, with toys all over the floor and coming out of every cabinet, but … what good do all of those toys do if they are stowed away in a room that isn't where the family is actively living? Figuring out what works for your family and your house might take a little time and a couple of go's.
For my family, we have a book shelf full of children's books in almost every room, and we have transformed our formal dining room (which is adjacent to our living room with no real wall separating the two) into a craft/dramatic play area. To keep the toy invasion from taking over, I utilize a toy rotation schedule where I rotate out what toys are available for play that week. The play kitchen and craft station are permanent, but each week 1 to 2 bins get rotated in (and out)—things like Duplo Legos, dress-up clothes or a little dollhouse with figurines.
Schedule your activities for each week. This goes along with what I was talking about with toy rotation but goes a little further as well. Schedule several outings (doesn't have to be a "kid" outing, when I was little, a majority of our outings were in the form of my mom's errands) and take note of days where things are already planned, like an appointment or a class.
Kid-friendly suggestions include (see Fun and Free Things to Do in the Summer for lots more ideas):
Library events, such as storytimes, music and science classes and more
Crafting classes at local hobby stores
City parks and recreation events and classes
Backyard picnics or indoor forts
Local neighborhood splash pads
Additionally, I wouldn't recommend having ALL your time planned out and scheduled (who is able to do that, anyway?). It's important to have unstructured free time—just have a list of activities for children to choose from that are parent-approved and low-tech READY for when your child is bored and wants to watch a TV show.
Model low-tech usage and be mindful of your own usage of technology amongst your children. While I am not saying that adults should be held to the same rules and regulations as children when it comes to technology, it is easier for your children to seek out technology for entertainment if their parent(s) are glued to their phone and/or laptop. Realizing that 100% of you reading this are reading it from aforementioned technological device and that I am obviously using a computer to write and share this information with you, this suggestion to model angelic non-tech behavior may seem ironic.
However, here are two important points to remember: a) you have already developed and fine-tuned all of your major developmental milestones like reading, writing and socially communicating, unlike your children, and b) you are using technology for educational purposes, and I am using technology for work purposes. Because I have two "jobs" outside of being a professional child-wrangler that are both heavily executed online (independent consultant for a children's books company and freelance writer), I have to really schedule when and how much time I spend time on my computer working.
- Limit screen exposure to mostly purposeful group activities. What does that even mean? Turning on the television for background noise while the family is cooking and eating breakfast is not a purposeful activity. Deciding to sit down and turn on a Daniel Tiger episode while you sit next to him/her and check emails is purposeful. Additionally, sitting in front of an iPad by themselves playing an educational app is not a group activity. Watching a movie together as a family is a group activity.
- Set (and stick to) easy-to-understand-and-follow guidelines when it comes to technology, regardless of your child's age. Set time limits on technology use. Monitor what they are doing and watching. Utilize parental controls settings to restrict various channels and websites from being viewed. In our house, on most days, we limit television usage to two kid shows after nap time. There is no (zero) usage of personal screens (tablets OR my phone) for my small children (2 and 4 years old). These guidelines are very black and white and easily communicated and understood by my kids.
I sincerely hope that these tips have given you some suggestions that you will take with you and implement in your home. Low tech does not equal low fun. It just takes a little adjustment in a world that is so heavily inundated with technology. Set the standard when your children are young using some of these tips, and maybe you won't be arguing with a 7-year-old about why he/she can't have an iPhone 20 (by then), or maybe you still will! But, I do know that these suggestions won't hurt anyone.
Tara Boyd, a North Texas pediatric speech therapist and mother of three, to Beulah ("Boo"), Lucy ("Lu") and little brother Jacob, dishes practical advice on marriage, motherhood and munchies with humor and southern charm in her blog Boyd Meets Girl.