For decades children have been going to school, spending time with teachers and classmates, and coming home to relax by watching TV or playing video games. But since a normal school day now involves far more screen time than in the past, it’s time for that pattern to reverse. Now, there should be less screen time after school to achieve some balance for visual and physical wellness.
In Part One of our Back To School series, I discussed some tips for managing screen time throughout the school day. Now let’s take a look at some of the things you can do once the school day is over to give everyone’s eyes a break from the long day of screens.
For starters, I like encouraging play - not just for kids, but for parents and caregivers too. A pediatric optometrist and friend of mine recommends getting 2 hours of play per day to help reduce risk factors for nearsightedness/glasses use. It doesn’t have to be all at once, but can be broken up. Try fifteen minutes in the morning and afternoon, one hour at lunch, and one hour after school.
Opt for non-screen games that encourage long distance viewing to keep the vision sharp, like tennis, corn hole, frisbee or biking! My family and I love to play a game of badminton after work that gets the heart rate up, stimulates the vision, and shakes off the work day with every bounce of the birdie across the net!
As many parents know, it can be hard to balance household tasks with raising a child and maintaining a career. Planning extra evening programming can become one more thing to add to the long list of things to do before bed every night. While discussing this with another mom-tometrist friend of mine who has two preschool aged children at home, she had a few great suggestions for activities to help cut out the screen time for the family without creating more stress for the parents.
Her first suggestion is to take a break when the work/school day ends, leave home, and go for a neighborhood walk with the family to enjoy the scenery and relieve your eyes of any computer associated strain. It doesn’t have to be long - even 10-15 minutes will go a long way. A little time outdoors has been known to have so many benefits for overall health and wellness. For the little ones, walks can also create a platform for learning and curiosity as they observe their surroundings. With the really little kids, playing a game of “I spy” can be a great way to challenge their distance vision while getting them the exercise they need.
Her second suggestion is to introduce a no screen book reading time with the family. During this time, all family members should put away their screens and find two books or magazines of choice to read instead. Each parent can read whatever they want during this time, it doesn’t at all have to be kid stuff (in fact, it’s better if it isn’t!) You can share in each other’s company quietly and still have time away from screens.
Involving everyone in household routines is also a great way to build family relationships, and reduce the burden of everyday life while encouraging off-screen time. The process of engaging kids in cooking together, setting the table, eating and cleaning up builds teamwork and communication skills as well as responsibility. Themed dinners can also be a great way to encourage creativity with music, menu design and decor.
After dinner, think about some no-screen games like cards, board games, or charades to help pass the time and create lasting memories. Or, you can go the old-fashioned route and encourage kids to journal or write letters to connect with family or friends who may be distant. Surely a grandparent, a loved one overseas, or a socially distant friend would love a handwritten letter! You could even have kids establish pen pals from school who they may not be able to see regularly during the new school year.
Exploring the new world of eLearning while trying to balance excess screen time is not an easy task. It will take some time to adapt for the whole family. Luckily, there are so many resources that are able to help during this time to answer your questions, including several online resources like the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Healthychildren.org.
If you feel like your child is not seeing as well as they should be as this new school year starts, remember to connect with your local eye care provider to see if an eye examination is needed. Keeping up with regular vision care can help ensure that your child’s eyes are ready, no matter what the new school year looks like!
About Dr. Debi Sarma
Dr. Debi Sarma is a residency-trained optometrist who has built a career around vision health education, and is passionate about improving access to vision care for those in need. Dr. Sarma has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Waterloo, as well as a Doctorate degree from the New England College of Optometry. She is a seasoned lecturer on disease topics and loves connecting with people to talk about innovation, culture, and leadership in healthcare.
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