Every parent knows that hectic schedules juggling work, school, after school sports and playdates can limit quality family time. Even when we do have free time at home, with so much centred on our smart phones, televisions and tablets, parents and children can easily pass like ships in the night.
Technology is a fundamental and often necessary part of modern life and it has brought unquestionable benefits to our daily lives, but it's important for families to maintain a balance with other activities and spending quality time together.
Action for Children's latest research has found that nearly a quarter of parents struggle to get their children to "unplug" and take part in activities away from television, phone and computer screens. When asked which behaviour they found most difficult to control in their children, more parents said they struggled to limit technology-based activity (23 per cent) than get children to eat healthily (19 per cent), go to bed (18 per cent), or do their homework (10 per cent).
We know from our extensive work with children that strong relationships with parents build their resilience, helping them handle bullying and avoid abuse outside the home, as well as encouraging them to speak to their parents about any fears or concerns.
That's not to say the time you spend together has to focus solely on serious talks about stranger danger and similar - in fact, one of the best ways to maintain an open dialogue with your children about their lives is to have fun with them. Not only is this enjoyable for the whole family, but many children are more likely to confide in you in a relaxed, low-pressure setting.
In light of our research findings, Action for Children has developed five top tips to help parents get the whole family to unplug and play:
1. Plan fun activities for the whole family that don't involve technology.
2. Create a balance between technology use and other activities by creating a weekly schedule on the principle of an hour of 'energy in' (technology use) equalling an hour of 'energy out' (other activities).
3. Tap into your own experience: when you were a child, what was your favourite game to play? Share these with your children.
4. Identify the challenges your children enjoy in the video games they play and replicate them. Do they like games about sport? Encourage them to play the real deal in the park or go as a family to a local match. Are their favourite games puzzles or brain-teasers? Organise a board game night.
5. Practice what you preach: when your children are having screen-free time, turn off your devices too. Don't waste the opportunity!
As well as the conscious effort to cut down on screen-time, some parents may benefit from additional support, such as dropping in for a chat or attending support groups at children's centres, to learn how to better connect with their children. You can find your nearest Action for Children service at www.actionforchildren.org.uk.
Action for Children is currently running its National Children's Hour, which aims to simply make time for children and for adults to have some old-fashioned fun by unplugging and playing. For more activity ideas, check out https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/how-you-can-help/fundraise/fundraising-events/national-childrens-hour/