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Swapping screen time for play

Aug 1, 2023Library

Dr. Amanda Lovette, Pediatrician – Delta Health Pediatrics

Parents across the world are noticing that their children tend to spend more time indoors during the summer months instead of outside playing.  Us parents didn’t generally do this – we were told by our parents to get outside and out from under mom’s nose!  I know my sister and I were always outdoors, riding bikes, playing with our dolls and with our friends.  Now, however, so many children spend more time indoor on their screens – computers, tablets, phones. But outdoor play is healthy for our kids – so how do we get them outside and off their screens without them being horribly irate at us?

I recently read an article from Healthy Children that addressed this exact issue, and I thought the advice given was really helpful.  Of course, creating a Family Media Plan, which I have talked about in a prior blog (here is the link: is really helpful and can mitigate a lot of the controls your children may rebel against – a plan posted to the refrigerator gives everyone a clear idea of what is expected of them in regards to TV watching, cell phone use, and other screen actions.

Think about why your child likes the screen time.  Does he love playing action games? Does she like storytelling apps?  What are the online games and activities your child is most drawn to?

Use that information to help you suggest some different, non-screen activities that might also be of interest to your child and get him engaged in an activity that doesn’t involve computer software.

If your child likes:

  • Action video games with winners and losers: Your child probably likes mastering skills to make his performance better, and he likes competition.  Instead of a video game, offer off-line games like card games, outside obstacle courses, and age- appropriate board games, especially if your child must use the skill of strategy to play it.
  • Games like Minecraft or games where your child must move shapes and fit them into places: your child is interested in visual-spatial problem solving.  It is interesting that these skills of manipulation of computer-generated objects into new spaces don’t actually translate into those same skills done with hands and actual objects, so getting them off the screen to do manual manipulation is very important.  They would likely be very interested in puzzles, “I spy” games, or “dot-to-dot” activities.  They would likely enjoy building marble or toy car mazes out of toy bricks or Legos and racing these toys with their friends through the maze.
  • Relaxation: your child may be using the online time to just relax and zone out from the day.  Instead, offer a book to read, or music to listen to.  Take your child outside for a calm and restful walk and observe birds and other animal life. Some very active children don’t want to sit still but still need to relax their brain. These children might respond to suggestions like choreographing a dance to a song, or maybe just some simple yoga poses.
  • Storytelling: if your child is drawn to screen time involving stories like streaming videos or shows, they likely are drawn to the narrative and the pictures the stories create for them. Try having them listen to audiobooks instead, or read chapter books. Look at photo albums.  Have your family tell funny stories about you or about them.
  • Laughing: if your child is drawn to the videos of pranks and funny kittens and silly people doing silly things, your child is wanting to relax and let off steam by laughing and being entertained.  See if they would be interested in joke books or playing charades or funny board games or word games.

And if you find yourself using your phone or the tablet as an electronic babysitter, it’s understandable – you’ve got to find time to do things and the children are underfoot.  However, enlist their help in ways that won’t overstress you – if it’s time to cook dinner, involve your children in ways that are age appropriate (a toddler can fold paper towels for napkins, an older child can help set the table or cut up veggies, etc). Instead of giving your child a phone to watch while you shop for groceries, have them hold the list and tell you what is next on it, or make a game of trying to find that item in the store.  These bonding moments will create lasting memories.  And if you think of your family circumstances, you can always come up with ways to involve your children in the task at hand without overstressing you!

For more information, make sure to join the Healthy Kids Western Slope Facebook Group, or go online to You can also call 970.546.4000 to make an appointment at Delta Health Pediatrics.


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