Many Americans have found comfort and safety by staying inside their home during the pandemic. But for many, staying home includes the day-to-night transition from one screen for work or school to another for entertainment or socialization. In fact, screen time for children age 6-12 has doubled during the pandemic, putting a strain on more than just their eyes. Many children are also suffering from substantial strain on their growing bodies including their minds, musculoskeletal systems and overall wellbeing.
Sitting hunched over at a computer all day or slouching on the couch for hours on end creates real ergonomic problems for children and can develop bad habits difficult to break. Bodies, especially of those aged 6-17, are designed to be active and in motion. Ideally, people should stand and take microbreaks every 20-30 minutes to support muscles. Although this may seem extreme, it is designed with the body in mind. Children should be moving even more often and need at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, not including necessary microbreaks.
Between virtual learning, gaming and television, some parents may feel helpless to restrictions, but it is critical for children’s growth and development to stay mobile and active throughout the day. There are many reasons to limit a child’s screen time, but here are four surprising benefits of encouraging your family to unplug.
- Disconnecting helps reconnect. It’s simple. Take a break. Schedule time as a group to completely step away from devices. Set a timer and don’t return until it goes off. Families were good about this early in the pandemic but now is the time to create a new routine. Try playing a new game, walking after dinner, or starting “hobby time” where the whole family works on something tactical and creative during a dedicated time slot. Utilize the hours after school and work to spend quality time with each other while finding a new or old favorite activity that does not involve a screen.
- Body movement. Just like adults, kids need to get up and move. More importantly, rest their eyes from screens. According to The American Optometric Association and Optometry Cares, children are at a higher risk for retinal damage from the harmful blue light emitted from screens. Instead of diving right into the first online session of the day, start the day with a short stretching routine and work in short walks or movement breaks in between class times. For kids, prolonged periods of sitting could affect their mental health, so make sure they get up throughout the day.
Bonus tip: Try to time these breaks with your kids and make use of it to check in on your child’s mental and behavioral wellness.
- Improved health. This will come as no shock, but when people are active it contributes to their overall health and wellbeing. Playing outside is not only a great way to get kids’ blood flowing and heart pumping, but it is also a huge mood booster. Upon exercise and activity, endorphins are released providing feelings of happiness and blocking feelings of pain. So, even if it is cold out, bundle up and enjoy some fresh air.
- Get reenergized. It’s exhausting staring at a computer screen all day and often leaves a feeling of sluggishness. Reenergize by learning something new off screen. Many people are starting new crafts such as knitting or paint by numbers. The craft retailer, Michaels, experienced a 353% e-commerce growth in the second quarter of 2020. Starting a leisure hobby or even arts and crafts have many benefits, including reducing blood pressure, increasing mental function, lowering stress and many more.
Now is the time to look after your family’s overall health and wellbeing. Make sure to carve time out for individual wellness, but also for family health and wellbeing, find a sense of peace and stay active. So, instead of making popcorn and sitting down for a movie night, get moving! Plan an afterschool activity for the children or the whole family. You may be surprised to discover a new favorite family activity or what can be learned together.