People love their devices. Enticed by their entertainment value as well as the ability to instantly access information and communicate with others, we simply can’t get enough of our smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs, and video games. Unfortunately, our devices have become a dependency for many as adults spend, on average, more than 19 hours a day staring at a screen. Even more distressing is that children have developed our same addiction to technology and are increasingly spending more time connected to their devices.
A 2021 Common Sense Census found that 8- to 12-year-olds spend approximately 5.5 hours of screen time per day and 13- to 18-year-olds spend nearly 8.5 hours a day. From watching videos and chatting with friends to playing video games and surfing the web, today’s devices have become children’s main source of entertainment.
The toll devices take on children
Pediatricians sounded the alarm years ago that too much screen time affects the physical, mental, and social skills of today’s children as studies show links between excessive screen time and issues such as obesity, depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems. Likewise, children lack interpersonal communication skills from spending so much alone time on a device. Face-to-face social interactions are critical to a child’s development and are the building blocks to forming healthy relationships and friendships as they mature.
Pediatricians generally recommend the following guidelines:
Under 2 years old: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family or friends
2 to 5 years old: No more than one hour per day co-viewing with a parent or sibling
5 to 17 years old: Generally, no more than two hours per day, except for homework
Devices may stimulate their senses but they also foster a sedentary lifestyle. It’s time to find alternative ways to entertain children that improve their mental, physical, and social health.
Replace kids’ screen time with outdoor fitness
Make a concerted effort to decrease your child’s screen time by increasing their time spent outdoors, and an outdoor fitness park is the perfect place to start. Research local parks and other outdoor venues that have age-appropriate fitness equipment and activities for your children. Map out the locations and dates to visit, making sure to give your kids ample notice and share the types of activities they can try so you can build excitement.
Outdoor fitness parks have bloomed over the years and many have fitness equipment for different ages and skill levels, making fitness accessible and affordable for all. Another benefit of an outdoor fitness park is other children will be there, giving kids opportunities to meet and socialize with others their age.
Physical activity does wonders for a child’s development. Here are five types of outdoor fitness equipment that offer a variety of benefits for children and teens:
1. Overhead ladders: This type of outdoor fitness equipment not only builds a child’s confidence, it also helps develop their upper-body strength and agility. Designed for younger children, overhead ladders have vertical ladders on both sides to climb and access the overhead rungs, which are just high enough to make for an exciting trek from one end to the other. Age Range: 5 to 12
2. Log roll climbers: For an activity that brings out one’s adventurous side, a log roll climber helps children work on their balance and dexterity while getting cardiovascular exercise. Using the steel bar for support, the child walks forward or backward on the log roll to see how long they can stay standing, speeding up and slowing down as they try to maintain their balance. Kids love to see how long they can remain on the log roll climber! Age Range: 5 to 12
3. Rock climbers: Rock climbers are great confidence-boosters for kids. Commercially built and safety-tested, 8-foot-high rock climbers give children the thrill of climbing while strengthening their core muscles and upper body. Using sculpted foot and handholds, they can climb as high as they want, then use their cognitive skills to climb back down safely to the ground. Age Range: 5 to 12
4. Chin-up bars: For tweens and teenagers looking to build arm strength quickly, chin-up bars fit the bill. Triple-station chin-up bars offer three heights to accommodate different skill levels and sizes. Teens can start with the lower-height bars and, as they build their upper arm muscles, can move on to the highest bar, which measures 7.5 feet high. Chin-up bars can also be used to build gymnastics abilities and leg strength. Age Range: 13+
5. Sky walkers: A great way for older kids to get in a workout outdoors is with sky walker gym equipment. This low-impact machine uses simple stride motions to help teens build stamina and burn calories in a short period of time. Constructed of commercial-grade, powder-coated steel, the sky walker features a stability bar for added safety and comfort. Not only does this outdoor fitness equipment offer great cardiovascular benefits, it’s also a lot of fun to use. Age Range: 13+
Get started promoting outdoor physical activity today!
There’s no time like the present to encourage your children to put down their devices and spend more time outdoors exercising, socializing, and having fun. If winter weather is keeping you from using an outdoor fitness park, opt for an indoor fitness facility like the YMCA in the interim. While indoor facilities offer a lot of benefits, there’s nothing quite like exercising outside surrounded by nature, and breathing in fresh air.
Taking screen time away from your children could be a difficult task, so we suggest you take baby steps by slowly integrating outdoor fitness each week, changing up the activities to keep them engaged, and, most importantly, leading by example. Put down your own device and get out and exercise with them! Develop an exercise routine now so your family can take part in National Exercise with Your Child Week August 4 through August 10, 2024. Organizations all over the country will be participating in this annual event, so check to see who's planning activities in your community.