If your kids’ faces are constantly buried behind electronic devices, it may be time to cut the charging cord.
“Exercise and outdoor activities are good for children’s mental and physical health,” says Rupali Kadakia, MD, family medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pearland. “It greatly reduces depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.”
For those whose kids need convincing, Dr. Kadakia offers four ways to unplug and get moving as a family.
One: Limit Access
Lay ground rules for when your children can use screens, such as reserving them for weekends or commutes, she says.
If you gather and store everyone’s electronics in the family’s nerve center—typically, the kitchen—you can know they’re offline.
Then what? Encourage your children to pursue hobbies, take up sports and read offline. “When you’re taking them to practice, games or the library, you can check in with how they’re feeling,” she says. Consider coaching teams because kids feel motivated when parents take interest in their activities.
Also, give them the why. From an early age, let them know why too much screen time is not good for vision and memory, and why the body and mind perform better with outdoor exercise.
Two: Walk the Talk
“If parents are not showcasing the desired behavior themselves, kids are unlikely to get motivated,” Dr. Kadakia says.
Turn off the TV and eat at the dining table together. Also limit your own screen time and eat the same well-balanced meals that you give them. Strive for a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to get the most nutrients and variety.
“And drink plenty of water—half an ounce for each pound you weigh,” she says. “If someone weighs 100 pounds, they should drink 50 ounces of water daily. Keeping hydrated keeps your energy up.”
Three: Make Your Home Their Activity Hub
Meet family and friends outdoors and encourage kids to bike or play basketball, volleyball or badminton in your yard.
“Seeing friends in person is much better than texting them,” Dr. Kadakia says.
Your family can even make running, volleyball, basketball and other sports fun by competing against each other or your own personal records.
“Remind them that it doesn’t matter if someone else is better at a sport,” she says. “What matters is that you do your best. It’s not about being best, it’s about going out and having a good time.”
Four: Give Them Power
Let them choose ways to connect with nature. That can include outdoor yoga and martial arts, not just biking, walking or running. And allow them to pick the park, trail or neighborhood you explore together.