Why Kids Like Screens and How To Get Them to Play Outside Instead

six kids focus on screens and phones, one kid appears playing at the bottom of a slide

As parents we know our kids should spend less time on screens and we know it’s our responsibility to create boundaries around screens. But have you ever thought about why kids like screens and why outdoor play is better?

Let’s start with why kids are on screens. To put it simply, screens fill emotional and cognitive needs.  

  1. Connection – Whether your child is outgoing or shy, all children have a need for connection. Games where kids are talking to other kids meet that need. Obviously, social media can fill those needs as well, but often not in ways that are positive.

  2. Learning and Exploration – Part of the appeal of screens and apps is learning new things and exploring new environments. The technology brought to our kids by screens can do that, but again unchecked time screen time becomes most time.

  3. Entertainment – It’s fun to be sucked into a story or be the architect of a whole world. This one is a no brainer as it seems kids come pre-wired to seek entertaining ways to spend time.

  4. Reward – Games, social media, and many apps in general give brains little hits of dopamine. It’s part of the reason we all can become addicted to screens big and small.

  5. Escape from boredom or stress – While adults are the more likely to hit up screens to numb out, kids do it too. With screen kids have the option to never experience boredom. And while that may initially sound appealing, boredom can make way for creativity.  

Now let’s match up those same emotional and cognitive needs with something more active.  

  1. Connection – When you’re the house on the block that owns a playset or sport court and hoop, you’re the house the kids want to visit. Not only can your child step into the backyard for adventure, but they can invite school and neighborhood friends over to play. Bonus, when parents come with their kids, even grown-ups can make new friends.

  2. Learning and Exploration – This is a primary function of play. While it will be years before they label it as such, children learn about physics, kinetics, and environmental and social sciences. Not bad for time spent doing something fun!

  3. Entertainment – Your child’s imagination is set free when they play outside. A climbing feature is Mt. Everest, a swing is a rocket, a slide is an undiscovered cave.

  4. Reward – When kids or anyone moves their body it promotes both mental and physical health. An array of neuro-transmitters fire making kids feel great. You may notice your kids feel less anxious and happier in general after being outside to play.

  5. Escape from boredom or stress – When there’s a playset or court in your backyard you have a built-in boredom buster. In no time a bored kid turns into an engaged kid trying to make 3-pointers or letting their imagination run wild as they swing, climb, and slide.  

We’d love for you to consider a Bergfeld Recreation playset or court instead of screens, but what we really want is for children to enjoy childhood. That means living fully engaged and spending less time on screens and devices. We’re rooting for you no matter how you help kids spend less time on screens.

We’re play experts, not experts on kids and screen time. If you want more information on kids and screens, here are the sources we used for this blog. 

Here’s Why Screens Bring Out the Worst in Your Kid
What Do We Really Know About Kids and Screens
Stressed About Your Child’s Screen Time. Here’s What a Mayo Expert Recommends