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8 ways to reduce screen time and boost your well-being

Worried that you and your family spend too much time online? You might be right to be concerned.

Plenty of children and adults have been glued to their TVs, laptops, and phones during the COVID-19 pandemic. This isn’t surprising: Many kids have been out of school since mid-March. Many have limited their time with friends as a way to help slow the spread of the virus. It’s natural that they are turning more frequently to video games, social media and YouTube videos.

Adults aren’t immune to this boost in screen time, either. Many of them are working from home on a full-time basis today. They aren’t traveling or eating out as much. Many have isolated themselves from their friends and extended family members. Again, turning more frequently to screen time is a way to pass those long hours of quarantine.

Fortunately, you can take steps to break, or at least weaken, your family’s screen-time addiction. It just requires a bit of discipline, a willingness to set new schedules and the ability to get creative.

Here are eight ways to break away from the screens, even during a pandemic.

1. Set up those schedules

One of the best ways to limit screen time for your family? Create a schedule of activities and chores that each family member must complete each day. These scheduled events will keep kids and adults away from their screens.

For example, schedule a family walk every morning. Or set a time for your children to play with that new badminton set in the backyard three times a week. You might schedule a family game night two times a week or set up a weekly soccer match at the local park.

Be sure, too, to schedule in chores that each family member can tackle. Your son might have to walk the dog three times a day or vacuum the rugs three times a week. You might schedule your daughter to make dinner two times a week, take on the dusting in the living room and dining room or mow the lawn each Wednesday.

Make sure your family’s schedule is a mix of tasks and fun activities, though. And don’t fill up all the hours of your day. It’s easier to stick to a realistic schedule that includes both fun activities and household chores.

2. Stay active

Schedule time for exercise or physical activity every day. You’d be surprised at how much better you’ll feel. 

You might set aside 30 minutes every morning for yoga. Maybe you can master jumping rope this year, challenging yourself to do more jumps every day. Get the kids outside as much as possible to play baseball, soccer, or basketball.

And if you have old exercise equipment in the garage or basement? Dust it off. Now’s a great time to get back on that stepper or ride that bike that’s been hanging in the garage for six months.

3. Read something that’s not on a screen

Don’t forget about physical books, the kind you hold in your hands. Sure, you can download books to your tablet and computer. But then you’ll be tempted to surf to your favorite websites and social media. Instead, crack open a real book and dive in, whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction.

Your local library is a great source for books and borrowing instead of buying will put less strain on your finances. Some quiet time with a physical book can keep you, and the rest of your family, away from those screens.

4. Make dinnertime family time

It might sound corny but sit down for dinner as a family as often as you can. And then let the conversation flow. And make a rule: No devices — including smartphones — at the dinner table.

Don’t get into the bad habit of eating dinner in front of the TV. And refrain from texting during meals. Sitting down to dinner together gives everyone in the family a chance to connect and ditch the screens, at least for a little while.

5. Plan short outings

A quick road trip to a state park, a walk to the local ice-cream shop, or bike ride to a neighboring town’s downtown strip can break up the monotony of a boring day. And it’s a better alternative than whiling away the hours on your phone or laptop.

Probably nothing drives kids — and adults — to their devices more than does boredom. When you feel the blahs coming on, take off on an impromptu outing. 

6. Give your kids a screen time zone

It’s probably not a good idea to eliminate your children’s screen time entirely. That’s not realistic. Instead, set limits on how much time your children can spend on their phones, tablets, or computers. 

You might consider not making those limits too strict: Telling your children that they can spend 15 minutes a day on their devices probably is probably unrealistic. A more realistic goal, however, may be to give your children an hour or 90 minutes a day on their devices. 

7. Explore your park district

You might be surprised at how many activities your local park district offers. Many park districts run sports leagues for children, teens, and adults. They offer cooking, art, martial arts, and gymnastics classes. Others offer social clubs for teens and young adults.

Your park district, then, can be a treasure trove of opportunities to get your family away from their screens. 

8. Plan a little hope

It can be difficult to convince family members to turn off their screens when they’re social distancing, preparing for Zoom school, and avoiding indoor spaces. It’s important, then, to plan for a brighter future. The COVID-19 pandemic will end eventually. Why not plan a big trip for when it does? 

You can involve everyone in the family in the planning process. Take suggestions on where to go. Research attractions, restaurants, and hotels. (Yes, you’ll probably use screens to do this, we know. But at least you’ll be looking at them together.)

Give your family something to look forward to. A little bit of hope can help in your efforts to pry your children and spouse away from those screens.

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