Encouraging kids to move through technology and community support

By Nora Heston Tarte

*Please note that the app mentioned in this article can now be found by searching for Genius App Manager in your app store.

The smart phone addiction is real, and unfortunately all of that tech time is causing a serious surge in obesity statistics for both kids and teens (not to mention the connections to mental and emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression and lack of interpersonal relationships). So how do parents keep kids off their apps? The goal is moderation. With a little help from technology and a lot of help from local programs, parents can combat these potential problems with ease. Read on for tips.

GOYA & Move

Get Off Your Apps (GOYA) and Move is an app created to help parents motivate kids to be more active or even complete chores at home. It’s not the first phone restriction app that gives parents the ability to turn off a child’s phone after a certain amount of time or set time limits on specific apps. It does, however, offer a slightly different approach. Parents and guardians who download GOYA-Move can control their child’s smartphone device and use goals to unlock more screen time. Unlike other phone distortion apps which completely black out a phone’s capabilities until it’s arbitrarily unlocked again, GOYA-Move allows a child to unlock their phone after meeting specific goals such as completing chores or step goals (i.e. encouraging exercise). This creates an extra layer of motivation for kids while also placing importance on goal setting and achieving, which is an important lesson for all adolescents to learn and has been linked to better success in adulthood across the board. As a bonus, the app was endorsed by the National PTA with backers seeing education applications in its future.

Even better, the app was created by two parents from Illinois who know our struggles. After they noticed a significant lack of activity in their six kids, they created the tool to combat device addiction as well as encourage movement.

This app is just one in a long line of apps that encourage regulation and time constraints on smartphones. By granting control to the parent, kids must adhere to the rules put in place. And thanks to technology, it’s more effective than taking the device away where it can be snuck back out of its hiding place when you’re not around. Even kiddie phones such as the VTECH KiddiBuzz (recommended for kids as young as 4 years old) allow parents to control how long kids can be on apps as well as block out specific hours. During this time, specific apps or all phone functions can be turned off—say, like, during school hours.

“It’s important to limit screen time, because when children are in front of a screen they are not learning or growing. They are not being physically active,” says Shelby Tuttle, director of communications at Valley Of The Sun YMCA.

Community Support

Getting kids off of electronic devices like smart phones, video games and computers, is only half of the battle. The other part involves actually getting kids to move. Some kids may be satisfied to go outside and play by themselves, with neighborhood kids or with siblings, but if that isn’t enough, consider looking at local programming to support your child’s physical goals.

“Children learn best through play; limiting screen time is more about creating a strong learning environment,” Shelby says. “At the Y we emphasize social and emotional learning for youth ages 0 to 12, this is accomplished through play and relationship building; it cannot be facilitated by screens.”

The YMCA does more than offer a space for children to be active, it creates a place where families can learn how to be active together both at the center and at home. At the Maryvale YMCA, there is an early learning readiness program for children ages 3-5 that invites a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to play together and grow together. “We teach songs and games that caregivers can take home with them; all in an effort to prepare children for success in kindergarten,” Shelby explains.

On the more physical side is a program called adventure guides, designed for a child and their caregiver to bond, get outside, and make friends. “At the Y, we inspire friendships and independence—all skills that kids can bring home to their families and friends,” Shelby says.

Setting Limits

As mentioned, every family is different, and that can make setting guidelines for screen time as well as exercise time complicated. Getting kids into activities is one way to limit their exposure to screens because when they are actively engaged in something else, they are less likely to even think about screens. Putting them in a camp or activity such as a sport (indoor or outdoor) that doesn’t encourage screen time is one way to achieve this. “At the Y the only time children are in front of a screen is when there is a learning activity. At most it is one hour a week,” says Shelby.

As for at home, the Mayo Clinic has some guidelines that can help parents craft their house rules for electronics. For example, one suggestion is that children under age 5 should only have up to one hour of screen time per day. Similarly, the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend little to no screen time for children ages 18-24 months, up to one hour per day for ages 3-5, up to 1.5 hours per day for ages 6-10 and up to two hours per day for ages 11-13.

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