Some of the most compelling things competing for your teen's attention happen on their device screens. Here are five ways to help your teen get out of the virtual world and into the real one.
Even under normal circumstances, managing our kids' screen time has long been a challenge for parents—myself included! But finding a healthy balance between living in the real world and the virtual one can seem almost impossible during a pandemic when there are so many restrictions on how our kids, especially teens, can spend their free time.
Here are five ways the teens in your life can change it up and have some screen-free fun.
1. Consider your own attachment to screens
Before we try and redirect our young adults from their beloved devices, an excellent place to start is by rethinking how we as parents use them. Our children, regardless of their ages, continually observe us. They quietly monitor our daily habits, good and bad, and without our realizing it, they begin to mimic us. We're their ultimate role models!
A recent study found that adults (yes, us moms and dads!) spend more hours than we'd probably like to admit glued to gadgets such as phones, laptops, and televisions. Here's a quote from an article by StudyFinds.org:
A poll of 2,000 British adults, commissioned by Vision Direct, found that the typical person will spend a staggering 34 years looking at phones, computers, or televisions. During the typical adult lifespan, from ages 18-81, researchers say a person will be glued to their screens for over 13 hours a day. That adds up to 4,866 hours each year and a stunning 301,733 hours throughout those 62 adult years.
Wow! These statistics floored me. If I'm spending oodles of time attached to my electronics, why wouldn't my children feel they could do the same? Screens in our home provide an effective communication channel with the outside world, but we shouldn't allow easy access to stimulating content like videos, games, and social media to compromise an active lifestyle or direct interaction with loved ones.
We shouldn't allow easy access to stimulating content like videos, games, and social media to compromise an active lifestyle or direct interaction with loved ones.
Before you start trying to shift your kids away from their screens, take inventory of your own screen time. Evaluate how often you hang out in front of the TV. Are you checking texts round the clock, including when your kids are trying to talk to you? Is your laptop propped on the kitchen island 24/7 so it pulls you away even during mealtimes? (Guilty as charged!)
If you're conscious of your screen habits, you'll be able to make adjustments and set an excellent example for the rest of your family. I committed to putting my laptop away at four every day and not bringing it out again until we've settled in for after-dinner activities.
It can be surprisingly hard to pull yourself away from the neverending cycle of news in 2020. If you find yourself endlessly surfing bad news and distressing social media posts, you may be taking part in the "doomscrolling" phenomenon. My QDT colleagues just shared some insightful episodes devoted to doomscrolling. Mignon Fogarty talked about the definition and origins of the word in the Grammar Girl podcast. Dr. Jade Wu explained why surfing bad news can be harmful and offered some tips to help you stop doomscrolling in the most recent Savvy Psychologist episode.
2. Brainstorm a "free-time" list
Have a conversation with your kids before you start laying down new ground rules about limited screen time. When your children feel like you include them in the decision-making process, you have a much better chance at a successful outcome.
The majority of my friends are in agreement that their families have more than doubled the time they spend on their devices during the past six months. Some even upgraded their phones and electronics so they could stay connected to the outside world at all times. Because family members were spending so much physical time together, they didn’t feel it was as necessary to stay connected with their immediate loved ones. Being attached to a screen nearly 24/7 was becoming the new norm.
When your children feel like you include them in the decision-making process, you have a much better chance at a successful outcome.
One mom came up with a solution that her tweens and teens liked—brainstorming a list of 50 things, big and small, to reduce screen time. Together as a family. This idea allowed everyone to have input on ways they could hang out and keep busy without any (or very limited) electronic time.
The list ran the gamut from eating dinner outside a couple of times a week to room makeovers in their home. One ambitious high schooler started her own pet-sitting business and was scheduled weeks in advance because she was helping families who were both working from home and doing remote learning and didn’t have that extra quality time for their pets.
Check out this creative list of 100 Things Teenagers Can Do Without Screens for lots of cool ideas.
3. Earn device-free credits
One thing that has always worked well in getting my brood’s attention is offering valuable incentives.
I saw an interesting idea mentioned on a Pinterest board last year—trading screen time for money or gift cards. I wasn’t crazy about bribing my kids with money, so I modified the idea to benefit the entire family.
Within three weeks, we banked enough screen-free credits to put towards a weekend getaway at a mountain resort.
We all agreed to trade technology hours for activities like reading, biking, gardening, or organizing things like closets and bedrooms. Each hour spent away from our screens earned us $20 to put towards either a family outing or an individual item that one of the kids wanted. Within three weeks, we banked enough screen-free credits to put towards a weekend getaway at a mountain resort.
A long weekend away is something we’re all looking forward to, but even better is the fact that each of us realized how much we’re enjoying activities other than looking at a phone or television screen.
4. Get cooking
We all need to eat—that's something every human has in common.
I love to cook and try new recipes, and I credit my mother for getting me and my siblings interested in food preparation at a very young age. (As the mother of five kids each born a year apart, she was smart to enlist helpers in the kitchen.)
There are dozens of ways teens can help out in the kitchen, even if they aren’t ready to take on concocting a full recipe. Letting them browse your favorite cookbooks is a great way to introduce them to the world of cooking. Books with colorful photos of finished recipes can whet the appetite and pique interest in creating something similar. Teens who have their driver’s license can help run to the market. They'll feel great about contributing to the family meal by doing the shopping.
Cooking and eating together as a family is one of the best ways to stay connected regardless of what’s happening in the outside world.
Experimenting with new ingredients is also a fun way to appreciate new tastes and cultures. We have recipe “try-outs” once a week in our home. This allows my kids the opportunity to prepare anything they’re interested in making (within reason) and serve to the entire family. One of my sons enjoys this so much he teases us at the beginning of the week with his “mystery” dish and tries to keep us guessing what it will be. At the same time, one of my daughters discovered she loves to photograph food.
I’m a huge fan of meal planning, and having my kids participate in our weekly menu is a win/win for all.
When your kids are involved in the kitchen, not only will you gain extra help throughout the week, but kids will easily stay off their devices for hours at a time. Cooking and eating together as a family is one of the best ways to stay connected regardless of what’s happening in the outside world.
There are times when screen time can be valuable. Our new norm of virtual learning has allowed students to continue their education despite our current circumstances. Thanks to the access most have to technology, the chance to continue learning is still available even when our kids can't be in a physical classroom.
In addition to remote learning, there are also new opportunities to give back in a virtual world. In my popular episode, "I'm Bored!"—9 Boredom-busters for Any Age Group, I shared some cool ways teens can keep busy no matter what. One way mentioned was giving back.
One of the most significant ways to get out of a personal slump is to stop focusing on yourself and spend your time and energy helping others. Teens are at the perfect age to spend their free time giving back. (Whether they know it or not!) And with access to the internet, it’s easier than ever to match individual interests with opportunities right in your community.
In addition to volunteer choices in your community, these resources are a terrific starting point.
Get your teen on board with making a difference in the life of people and fellow students who need support. It might be one of the best decisions she makes both on- and off-screen!