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5 Ways to Tear Kids Away from the TV this Summer

May 11, 2017

So, the weather’s finally warming up, the trees and flowers are going bananas, it’s a gorgeous day – and where are the kids?  Sitting on the couch watching tv while playing doodle jump on their phones?

It isn’t easy to break through the fog, but here are some quick tips to help draw those kids out and encourage the kind of old-fashioned, real-world play that broadens minds, encourages creativity and social interaction, and creates lovely memories for years to come.

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It sounds counter-intuitive, but it can be helpful to start by considering what your little ones love about technology.  What looks like sullen unresponsiveness might be, to your son, a moment of connection with an old friend as he texts someone he misses.  For all of us, but especially kids, life is really confusing – doesn’t it make sense that a few minutes playing a game with clear rules and a simple goal is comforting and relaxing?

Of course, there’s not always a good reason behind technology use – but it can be helpful to remember that kids’ social and emotional lives today take place, at least in part, online.  They’re not on their phones because they want to hurt you!  Remember that we’re all only human, and nobody’s perfect.  Show compassion, even while you’re setting limits; invite kids to help you write up technology rules that the whole family is going to follow.  Ask them how they feel, and what they think is good and healthy.  You don’t have to follow their advice, but if they feel considered, heard and appreciated, you’ll have an easier time with those limits you want to set.

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Before summer (or anytime throughout the year), sit down with your kid and create a list of ideas for activities they think they’d enjoy doing during their free time.  Then, have them refer back to it when they complain of boredom, or have been watching TV for hours.  If you ask them to choose their own activities (go on a hike, plant a garden, bake cookies – activities can be big or small!) then later, you don’t have to frame your encouragement as “do this because I say so” – instead, you’re just reminding them of their own ideas.  “Remember you wanted to ride your bike this summer?  Now might be a great time to do that, we don’t have anything planned!”

I especially like this idea because it can be useful for us adults too.  I know if I don’t plan to do the things I love in advance, an hour of relaxing in front of the TV can turn into an afternoon, can turn into all my free time for the week gone before I know it.  Help your kids build those self-motivation skills now and they’ll thank you later!

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This one’s a little bit of a gimmick, but I’ve seen it work wonders, especially with younger kids.  Does your kid love Guitar Hero?  Why not see if they’d like an actual guitar to try out?  (Kid-size ones can be surprisingly cheap!)  If they like to draw but have a hard time motivating themselves to do it, encourage them to draw their favorite characters or scenes from a show they like.  You could also try to find a real-world board or card game that’s similar to their phone game – Kaboom is pretty much exactly like Angry Birds, but you get to all play it together!

Obviously this one won’t work for all games/shows, but it doesn’t have to be as literal as these examples either.  Sometimes a less direct approach works better.  Try engaging your kid in conversation about what they like or don’t like about the games they play and the shows they watch.  (This in itself can be a really interesting opportunity to get to know your kids better, and encourage self-reflection!)  If you find out that part of what they like about a video game is exploring different landscapes, maybe invite them to come walk around a new part of town with you – or if they like following the rules of the game to a satisfying conclusion, suggest baking something together from a recipe.

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You know that your attention is one of the things kids want (and need) most as they’re developing – what better way to encourage them to get their heads out of their technology then to offer to join them in an activity?  If you and the kids are all on your devices in the same room (it happens all the time!) and you notice it, offer something fun to do that you can do together.  Invite your kids to help you with your projects and hobbies, and when they figure out what activities they might be interested in, encourage them and join them in those too!

This way, it doesn’t have to be a “put your phone away or else” fight, which always leaves kids grumpy and uncooperative – instead, you’re learning and doing something fun together, and nobody notices you haven’t looked at your phones in an hour.

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The absolute biggest thing you can do to help your kids limit their screen time – and this isn’t just me saying this, the experts agree – is to model what you want to see in your own life.  It isn’t easy, but those little ones look up to us, and they’re smarter than we often give them credit for.  They don’t respond well to a “do as I say, not as I do” approach!

Nobody’s perfect, and I’m certainly not saying you can never watch TV or check your phone, but if you often find yourself choosing phone games over interacting with your kids or doing other fun real-world activities, you bet those kids are going to learn a lot from that.  And on the flip side, if you’re doing the activities you love and inviting them to join you, and encouraging them and joining them in the activities they gravitate to, they learn from that too!

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Do you have any tips you use to get your little ones up and moving?  Let us know in the comments below – we love hearing from you!

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