Encouraging Playtime Without Screen Time


Playtime has become synonymous with screen time for today's generation. Babies born in 2010 or later are being dubbed the Alpha Generation and have unparalleled access to smartphone and tablets, more so than any generation before them. "Unlike previous generations, which have used technology, Alphas will spend the bulk of their formative years completely immersed in it," says TEDx speaker, Mark McCrindle.

The technological advances we have made in such a short time period have introduced our little ones to iPads, tablets, and smartphones at an early age. Sometimes as young as one years old! Will this access help or hinder your child in their developmental years? The American Academy of Pediatrics says children under the age of two should not have any screen time. Whether it's a tablet, smartphone, computer, or TV.  There is no concrete evidence that this type of learning is beneficial for their developing brains.

Many parents reach for the tablet or phone to hand over to their toddler to entertain them, quiet their temper tantrum, occupy them when they cannot, or just to have them play with the many apps geared toward children their age.  Parents are bombarded with messages that apps are a great way for children to learn, but it has been linked to delays in speech.  And it's easy to see why. 

With no personal or social interaction, the child isn't encouraged to speak or experience anything other than observing and interacting with the app, video, movie or game. This can be good in a limited capacity and when the child is older than age two.  An adult or older sibling who will interact with him or her, speak, and make eye contact with them and encourage sensory exploration is ideal.

"It will be years before we know the effects of iPads on babies and toddlers, so it's really important that we be careful and thoughtful as we think about using them. This is such a crucial time in a child's life; the ramifications of what a child does, or doesn't do, during those early years can last a lifetime," says Dmitri Christakis, a pediatrician from Seattle who has done research on the effects of media on children.

So how do you pry the tablet or smartphone device away from your child's tiny fingers without a complete meltdown? 

If you've already given in and your child has access to your (or their own) device, start by limiting their time spent on it.  Talk about cutting back time and prepping them for the limited time they will be experiencing going forward. This method has been found to work even for the littlest ones who may only be speaking a few words. Even though their language skills haven't developed into full dialogue or even a full sentence yet, they do understand what you say to them. Of course, expect pushback. Screaming, crying, and full blown temper tantrums on the floor are normal. They are testing you to see how far they can push to get what they want. 

This will require some hard work on the parent’s side and it helps if your spouse is on board with you in limiting screen time in favor of active playtime. 

Once they realize that they have to do another activity other than playing with their favorite app, they will adjust. Of course, you need to be right there with them and engage them in whatever activity you want them to do. Whether it's playing with Legos, reading a book, playing with trains or dolls, having parental or adult support to show them that they can do other activities is necessary when transitioning away from screen time. Demonstrate that playtime can be more than watching a movie or playing a game on the iPad, and it can be fun too!

Once you've limited the time spent on the device, expand the limitations to certain rules. Such as only in the car on long drives, not a 10-minute ride to the grocery store. "30 - 60 minutes a day is likely ok," says Christakis.

Lead by example too. If you limited your child's interaction with their devices, seeing you on the iPad or phone doesn't set a good example and can leave them a bit confused and maybe even angry that they can't use it too. Be aware of where you are and if your children are within observation range when using your own devices.

Going through the difficult phase of weaning your child from screen time is worth their developmental needs. Encourage active playtime with them and even join in the fun. Riding bikes in the park, playing ball, and doing activities together, especially outside is beneficial for them and for you.

Creating memories with your children with active play is the best way to encourage playtime without screen time.