“Red rover, red rover, send Sara on over.”

My friend, Sara, dropped my hand, turned to me with a determined look, then ran full speed towards the line of kids across from us. Their hands gripped as tightly as they could in anticipation of her arrival.

Sara was running towards the two boys near the center of the line. At the last second, she changed course and burst through the line where a boy and a girl had just relaxed their grip, thinking they were safe.

Cheers of excitement filled the air. Sara picked one of the boys to take to our team, and they were soon standing in our line, gripping hands, waiting for the chosen member of the other team to run towards us.

We played outside almost every day. By mid-morning, the neighborhood was buzzing with kids riding their bikes, playing catch, and eventually, gathering in a backyard or nearby lot to play kickball or tag.

When we tired of games, we took breaks, lying in the grass and staring at the sky. Our imaginations soon took over, and we began pointing at the sky, challenging our friends to see animals in the clouds. “Right there, look, see the elephant!”

A Changing World

As the years passed and neighborhoods changed, more children grew up in homes without backyards—or neighborhood friends to play with.

Streaming services and cable TV took over their playtime — keeping them in front of the TV for hours. And childhood obesity numbers began to rise. According to a Harvard University study, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S. over the last three decades. One in six children is considered obese. 1

The TV is no longer the only screen. Young children now have portable handheld screens they stare at when not watching TV.

The portability of smartphones and tablets has made them more addictive than television. They can be used nearly everywhere, and your child looks at their screen instead of their surroundings. 

It’s not just about missing out on fresh air and sunshine. The dangers of too much screen time have increased from obesity to include slower mental development, speech delays, and poor social skills.2

Young children are also showing signs of depression and addiction related to the overuse of electronic devices and the increase in cyberbullying.

Replace Screen Time

You love your children and want them to be physically and mentally fit. But you can’t just take away their devices and expect them to know how to fill that void.

They need your help. One of the best ways to limit your child’s screen time is by replacing it with outdoor time.

Encourage outdoor activities that include sunshine, fresh air, and laughter. Daily physical activity, such as walking or outdoor games, help your children achieve a healthier balance between screen time and physical activity.

These games can include running, jumping, or climbing. If you don’t have the space in your yard, visit a local park or playground.

Invite other families to join you and let the kids make up games. And, if they need a game to get started, suggest one of the tag variations—or a friendly game of Red Rover.

Peggy Staver, the author of this post, is a freelance copywriter specializing in outdoor recreation and hospitality. You can see samples of her writing on LinkedIn and PSCopywriting.com

1Harvard Study on Obesity in Children

2 Media and Young Minds