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How to limit screen time and get kids outdoors

There's no denying the lure of a laptop, smartphone, or tablet, but it can be difficult to know when to switch off. That’s true for parents just as much as it is for kids. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to limit screen time as a family. Here’s how to encourage a better balance between scrolling feeds inside and having fun outside.

Why is limiting screen time for kids important?

A 2014 WHO study found that over 70% of kids aged 11 to 15 in the UK spend more than two hours each weekday looking at screens. When you take school, homework, clubs, music lessons, and sports teams into account, that leaves very little time for kids to play outside. 

That means kids can miss out, and not just on all kinds of fun: play is important for their development, activity levels, and wellbeing. Scrambling up trees, riding bikes with friends, messing about in the park – all these activities help kids learn and grow. Meanwhile, studies show that time spent on social media can make kids less happy, and overall screen time may be responsible for a drop in physical activity, too. 

So how much screen time is too much screen time for kids?

Now for a hefty “but”. There are no official screen time recommendations by age. While some studies suggest it’s best if children under the age of two should have no exposure to screens, many health organisations prefer to focus on encouraging a better balance between screen time and other activities. That goes for all ages (and even you). 

So the limits you agree with your kids will need to depend a little on your own outlook, and what’s feasible. Now: how do you limit screen time and get kids outdoors? 

Limit screen time for kids on the weekends

Agree on a fixed time during the weekend (or even the whole weekend, if you dare) when you all leave your phones and tablets at home and enjoy an activity outside the house as a family. Simply put all your laptops, phones, and tablets in a box and store them away. 

What you do next is up to you! Go on a long walk, visit an exhibition, play sports, cook a meal together, learn a new skill, or just go to a park and explore. The more routine this becomes, the easier limiting screen time for kids will be.

Limit screen time in the evenings 

It’s easy to turn on the television to fill the silence after a busy day’s work, but try to keep meal times screen-free. Relocating all meals to the dinner table can help a lot with this. After dinner, try suggesting a few family activities that aren’t screen-related. Instead of vegging out to Netflix or browsing the internet, aim to spend a couple of nights a week playing board games, going for a walk, or reading together. 

Learn mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises 

A few meditation exercises could help you and your kids resist the urge to check your devices. Try teaching your children a few simple breathing techniques, and set a time each day to sit together in silence for 10-15 minutes, just to think. Soon enough, you’ll feel the benefits too.

Encourage your kids to join after school clubs 

While real, unstructured play is important, after school clubs are still a useful way to limit screen time. Encourage your child to follow their passion, whether that’s learning how to play an instrument, competing in a sport, taking art classes, or starring in a play. Set aside some time to help them find hobbies they’re truly interested in.

Lead by example

You’re at a restaurant, on a long train journey, waiting for a bus — the most natural thing to do is to check your phone. But if your child sees is you glued to a screen, they’ll have little reason to reduce their own screen time. Practice what you preach!

As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to reduce screen time, especially as the social pressure to be connected all the time increases as children get older. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is simply give your kids plenty of opportunities to enjoy other fun activities, away from devices. After all, there’s no denying the lure of the outside world, either. Check out our kids’ activities hub for ideas.

Top tip: Outdoor play can be a messy business, but don't worry – with Persil liquid on hand, stains can be dealt with swiftly, so kids can make the most of the great outdoors. Find out how to remove mud stains here.

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