Yes, Kids Watch a Lot of TV, But We Shouldn’t Give Up on Getting Them Outside

Staring at screens all day is okay for stuffed bears. But human kids should really get outside more. (flickr | kenjonbro)

The scariest thing about television may not be the array of monster movies lined up on basic cable this month.

A new report from Common Sense Media (PDF ) finds that more than half of all American children between the ages of 0-8 now have access to one of the newer mobile devices at home, and nearly one-third have a TV in their bedroom. Overall, it indicates that ‘screen time’ is higher than ever for kids.

As if by providence alone, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned last week about the need to beat back this very trend, formally cautioning parents to limit their young kids’ screen time—and even the amount of time they spend watching TV near their kids.

But the former study concentrates largely on the breakdown of what kinds of media kids are using, and how they split up demographically. It spends a lot of timing parsing out childhood use of mobile apps and equal access to TV. It certainly doesn’t mention screen alternatives.

And the latter warning, while commendable, actually represents a softened stance from a similar 1999 recommendation:

Dr. Brown said the new policy was less restrictive because “the Academy took a lot of flak for the first one, from parents, from industry, and even from pediatricians asking, ‘What planet do you live on?’ ” The recommendations are an attempt to be more realistic, given that, between TVs, computers, iPads and smartphones, households may have 10 or more screens.

So while we learn more all the time about the scale and toll of the indoor (and screen-bound) childhood epidemic, many seem to be conceding defeat—or at least admitting that prying kids away from TVs, computers and the like is simply too unrealistic.

Risks of (and Alternatives to) a Screen-Bound Childhood

We shouldn’t be so quick to throw in the towel. As covered here and elsewhere, a couch potato lifestyle can lead to serious health problems (among them an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, nearsightedness and vitamin D deficiency); concentration and creativity deficiencies; and a weaker connection to the natural world.

Children who play outside are healthier, more creative in their play and show better concentration. Sometimes ignored but no less important, research (PDF) has shown that outdoor activities like hiking or camping can positively influence a kid’s attitudes toward nature (and environmentally conscious behavior) when they grow up.

Instead of screen time (or at least balancing moderate screen time), encourage your kids to do something outdoors the next time they say they’re bored. Check out these outdoor Halloween games or download a Spider Bingo card. Better yet, take ’em to Walker Nature Education Center for bat classes!

Do you know of any great outdoor activities, the kind that reliably make kids forget they’re not staring at a screen? Let me know in the comments below!