We’ve been speaking to Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, child and adolescent psychiatrist and Priory’s Group Associate Medical Director about her top tips on helping children to unplug for a healthy and more balanced lifestyle.
Top Tips for Unplugging Your Child
- Get board, not bored! – from Scrabble to Snap to Uno, Pointless to Pictionary, board games are back and can be a great bonding experience, whatever your child’s age and interests (and inhibitions), playing as equals.
- Children must have time to totally relax as well as get an adequate number of hours’ restorative sleep. Remove electronic devices from your children at least an hour before they should be going to sleep (and never leave devices charging in their bedrooms).
- Implement a new ‘regime of relaxation’, with no digital devices. Dredge your memory for how you used to occupy your time pre-iPhone and laptops, and encourage your children to play more innovative ‘device-free’ games.
- Ensure all digital devices are always put away (in a nearby bowl or basket) at all mealtimes – and that includes parents’ devices.
- Encourage your child to embrace boredom. Downtime is when a child’s imagination really takes grip, and when they learn to structure their own time and take charge themselves. If they are restless, encourage them to talk to grandparents or an elderly relative, preferably in person.
- Sport! You can’t be on your iPad or phone when you are playing sport. If your children don’t like school sport, try Zumba, yoga or crazy golf or riding bikes.
- Read together.
- Encourage activities that involve meeting and seeing people, such as attending clubs, having friends over, or just going to shops. All these offer opportunities to build self-esteem and allow for healthier social comparison – away from the digital world.
- Walk and talk – the better weather is a great excuse to get out and enjoy the fresh air, without the distraction of the TV or tablet. Use the time to chat openly; laugh and maybe broach sensitive subjects that have been off limits during term-time (parents might be surprised at what teenagers suddenly decide to share).
- Is your child better at texting than cooking? Show them how to rustle up an easy meal from scratch or how to barbecue.
- As parents, ensure you ‘role model’ limited use of technology, so you’re not constantly on your iPhone yourself, and make sure you engage in small talk and a wide range of conversations about the world with your children.
- What is your child studying at school? Take them to somewhere related and show them how they can impress their teacher and class with a more detailed knowledge of an historical event or author.
- After National Unplugging Day, set clear boundaries about using devices. Avoid any digital devices for children under the age of 2. Recent research by the American Academy of Paediatrics suggests that for children younger than 2, the benefits of digital use are really limited, if non-existent. For children aged 2-5, the same study said that the more complex thinking skills essential for school – such as persistence, being creative and thinking flexibly, are best taught through unstructured and social play, not digital devices. Limit use of devices for children aged 2-5 to one hour a day (which should be supervised). For children aged 5 -10 continue to limit use to as close to an hour a day as possible, and for children and teenagers aged 10+, keep their use to under three hours per day.