Ah, summer holidays. Endless days filled with sunshine, bare feet, hide and seek and icy-poles.
Oh wait, it’s 2015. Summer hols are now more Xbox and Netflix than sandy feet and sticky fingers, as parents attempt to juggle work commitments, Christmas shopping and a sudden increase in the time required to care for small children. And while it’s easier to get them to sit down in the corner of your office with an iPad and a pack of Pringles, the research shows too much time plugged in is preventing kids from getting outside and being active, leading to lifestyle diseases such as obesity.
Last week, Aussie parents rated excessive screen time their number one health concern when it comes to kids, so we consulted the experts find out some nifty ways to get your kids off screens this summer.
1. Only negotiate once
It’s important to set boundaries early in the holidays, Kimberley O’Brien, principal child psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic, told The Huffington Post Australia.
“Have a family meeting right after school breaks up and work out what is going to work for your family. Everyone gets a say, then you can have a negotiation around screen time… and then locking it in once it’s agreed."
O'Brien said it’s important for kids to have a say so their voice is heard, but parents need to make the final call and stick to it.
“It’s a parent's role and responsibility to set those boundaries,” she said.
2. Utilise alarms
Using a timer to regulate screen time is important. O'Brien told HuffPost Australia it is better than using your voice, as parents voices can be a “negative trigger” for children.
“It’s better to be bothered by the bell than mum or dad,” she said.
She also recommended having a ten minute warning alarm, so that kids know when it’s time to wrap up to avoid the “just five more minutes” situation.
3. Distract them
It’s very hard to stop kids being annoying and begging for the telly when they’ve got nothing to do. While it’s great for kids to be creative and make their own fun, it will be easier to keep them from the iStuff if you’ve scheduled other activities.
“As soon as screen time ends, get the kids out of the door and into the car to the park or beach,” O'Brien said.
If you’re busy and need to be in the house, set up activities for them to enjoy.
“Set up a station… with textas, Lego, building, puzzles, things that take a little bit of thought and provide intellectual stimulation. Books, they might just get their nose into the book,” she told HuffPost Australia.
4. Reward them
To make screen time exciting again, O'Brien recommends allowing your kids to earn extra time if they have been good, as well as building in times when they know they’ll get their fix.
“As a family reward, maybe you all sit down together and watch a movie... discuss it as a family maybe it’s once a week, twice a week,” she said.
She also recommends having a token system, so if they do something good like helping with the dishes or getting to bed without being asked, they get a token which may equal, say, ten minutes of TV time.
5. Set an example
It’s hard to tell your kids that screens are bad when they’re constantly seeing you glued to your laptop or iPhone, O'Brien told HuffPost Australia.
She said kids don’t realise that you are using your screen for work, they just associate it with entertainment or fun and it can be confusing.
“Set yourself rules or limits that work with your family. Everyone has the same rules and you may need to, for example, get off screens at 7pm and then jump back on after the kids are in bed.”