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Grandkids: Reducing screen time, making memories

Grandkids: Reducing screen time, making memories

Those of us who are grandparents may understand the ongoing struggle to keep grandchildren entertained during visits – or more specifically, entertained without giving in to their demands to use their beloved electrical devices.

We all want our grandchildren to enjoy the time we spend looking after them and get as much from it as possible; knowing only too well that sometime soon they will be all grown up and these precious days and weekends together will be happy memories.

As grandparents, getting that message across to our younger generations can seem frustratingly futile, especially when we are competing with the draw of modern technology. At times, it can feel that televisions, tablets, smartphones and computers emit some kind of magnetic pull that today’s youngsters find impossible to resist.

The stats might shock you. According to a lecture by Dr Aric Sigman, by the age of seven the average child will have spent a full year of 24-hour days watching recreational screen media. Over the course of childhood, they will spend more time watching TV than in school.

As you might expect, latest research is proving all this screen time is effecting their health, social abilities and education.

Screen time effects on health

As parents and grandparents, we appear to have been proven right with our concerns about too much screen time affecting the younger generations. Prolonged screen time can have a long-lasting impact on their future, including the following:

  • Obesity: All this time spent sitting down to watch television or play on electronic gadgets has been linked time and again to the rising issue of childhood obesity. Encouraging grandchildren to get outside more and be more active will help to instil healthier habits. 
  • Sleep problems: Indulging in screen time before trying to sleep can seriously backfire. The ‘Blue Light’ emitted from TV and other tech product screens affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and interferes with the circadian rhythm (your body clock), leading to insomnia. 
  • Lack of concentration: The fast-moving screen activity of swiping and scrolling has been said to have an effect on children’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time. You might notice how book reading can seem like a chore for your grandchildren as it requires focused attention for longer than they are used to giving.
  • Educational Problems: On average, 14-year-olds spend four hours of their leisure time every day watching TV or in front of a computer. A Cambridge University study published in September 2015 suggested those that spend an extra hour a day of television, internet or computer time at age 14 go on to achieve poorer GCSE grades*.

So how do we combat the issue? Making counter-productive remarks such as, "Don't you get tired of staring at your phone all the time?" are futile, as clearly the answer is a resounding no.

What we need are engaging ideas for passing time together that makes visits to Granny and Grandad’s house fun and family orientated. Kids today still love traditional play, however mature they think they may be.

Nature trails, baking and creative projects – there is so much they can learn to love. As their grandparents, we just need to help them discover – or rediscover – that about themselves.

First steps to reducing screen time…

When starting out on your mission to draw your grandchildren away from their favourite electrical gadgets, aim for the mantra ‘reduce rather than ban’.

Implementing a total ban on their mobile phone, for example, will not get them onside in preparation for your long term goal. If anything, you risk pushing them away.

In your efforts to reduce screen time in a positive way, consider establishing a few times when electronics should be put away. Phone and electronic-free time when eating together is an ideal starting point; you could ask that TVs and gadgets are all turned off or left in another room before everyone sits down to eat.

Set an example

Your grandchildren will be quick to catch on if you are watching television when you have asked them to go outside to play, or if you sneak off to check emails or your Facebook when they’re round. Practice what you intend to preach and keep an eye on your own screen time too, you might be surprised at your own level of use!

 Get creative

The devil makes work for idle hands, as they say, and this rings true when it comes to electronic devices; children often turn to their iPads and smartphones for a quick fix when they are bored.

Help them break the habit by having a few creative ideas up your sleeve for when they come to visit. Start by buying in the basic ingredients needed to bake and decorate fairy cakes or cookies – ideal for a rainy day activity.

Traditional games and jigsaws, treasure hunts and craft projects are all great ways to keep the grandchildren entertained, too. Or spend an afternoon planting seeds together so they can see how much their plants have grown each time they visit – sunflowers and strawberry plants are ideal for kids to grow from seed.

Books for bedtime

Having the grandkids to stay overnight? Getting youngsters into the habit of reading before bedtime, rather than watching television, is a great habit to start as young as possible.

Younger children will be thrilled when you take the time to read a story to them or help them to read one themselves, and it’s a great opportunity for some quality quiet time together, too.

Enjoy limited screen time as a family

Finally, remember that screen time doesn’t have to mean alone time. Electronics can be enjoyed together as a family and can be an opportune way to show them that you are interested in modern technology too!

You may also find it much easier to limit their screen time for the rest of the day if they know you will all be competing together on the Wii??? later on – or if you can promise a family movie night with popcorn and a DVD that you know they have been wanting to watch.

*BBC Sept 2015

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