Un-Screen and Sunscreen. Get Off the Screens and Be Safe Outside

July 17, 2017
Two children sitting in a tent teepee and holding a butterfly with a nature summertime background
Are your kids catching more rays from their phones and tablets than they are from the sun and the moon? With more kids hooked on screens and electronic devices, health and development experts have two related areas of concern: the risks of too much screen time, and the effects of not enough active and outdoor time.

Fortunately, the solution to both is simple: Limit the devices, and either coax or entice them outside.

Yes, there will be some whining. And we’re not going to lie: There could be actual yelling and crying. The faster you get them outside, the faster their cries will fade into the great, wide open.

To establish device limits, make a plan with each of your children that’s in line with screen-time recommendations for their age. An American Academy of Pediatrics online tool can help you come up with a personalized family media plan for each of your kids. After you have a plan in place and have talked over expectations with your children, stick to it. Once they accept that there’s no bargaining over the plan, they’ll let up on the protests.

Now it’s just a matter of combatting any claims of boredom that may result from their increased exposure to the outdoors. This will probably be the easy part. Just don’t forget to prepare them with the proper sunscreen, no matter what the season. For kids who may need coaxing, or to get the entire family involved, try one of these outdoor adventures:

Wildlife watching.

Even the most urban of neighborhoods is home to a variety of wildlife: from birds and squirrels to bugs and, in some cases, fish and frogs. Turn your child into a nature detective by offering them a special notebook and pen to record their observations about the creatures they spot around the neighborhood. If they aren’t sure where to start, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) offers some printable guides, from a backyard bird checklist or bug bingo to a full-fledged nature notebook.

Backyard camping/spooky stories.

Camping out is a great way to take a break from your electronic lifestyle and get in touch with nature. If getting away is tough, or if you just dread the thought of pit toilets, why not set up camp in the backyard? The kids will get all the adventure of sleeping on the ground and listening for owls, and you’ll have the comforts of bath and kitchen close at hand. Keep a campfire, s’mores, and some spooky stories in your back pocket in case the kids decide they want “just a few minutes” with their beloved device.

Family walk, family talk.

If you’re having trouble getting more out of your kids than grunts and nods, a family walk could be just the answer. Without the distractions of food or TV, you’ll find everyone has more to say. In the event that the floodgates open too far, or if silence is what you’ve been after all along, try these tips, or just challenge the kids to a foot race. Everyone gets a good workout, and the only sound will be a little labored breathing. If your kids outrun you, tell them you were only trying to boost their confidence.

Play in the rain.

Rather than drive yourself and the kids crazy trying to come up with indoor activities for dreary days, invest in rubber boots, raincoats, and umbrellas, and send them out to play in the rain. You’ll want to keep an eye out for thunderstorms or more severe weather, but otherwise kids and rain mix just fine.

Let them out at night.

A lot of kids go through stages when they’re afraid or nervous about the dark. That’s just one reason why getting them a little time outside, at night, is worthwhile. You can help them understand about creatures—like owls, bats, and raccoons—that are active at night, and talk about how other creatures, like humans, are mostly active during the day. You can show them the moon and the stars, and start to explain their place in the cosmos. Or just let them run after fireflies or moths.

Photo safari.

Dig up an old digital camera—one that’s not a multipurpose device like a smartphone or tablet—or purchase a cheap one. Send your explorer out with a safari mission: to capture as many different creatures and plant species as they can scare up. Then, during their scheduled screen time, encourage them to put together an album or even a video of their favorites. You might even encourage them to submit their best shots to NWF’s Ranger Rick Photo Contest. If your kid is a truly reluctant outdoor explorer, but loves his or her gadgets, this is a great way to get them started exploring nature.

Need even more ideas? Try this NWF Activity Finder.

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