(as posted in the Charlotte Observer)
By Melanie Hempe with Amy C. Eytchison
What could your tween daughter do if you gave her an extra six hours a day to read, dream or play outside? What could your teen son do if you gave him an extra nine hours a day to shoot hoops, play an instrument, or even sleep a little more? What could you do, with several extra hours a day? Would your family seize the opportunity, or would all of you rather take those hours to stare at a screen?
Six hours and nine hours. That’s how much time tweens and teens, respectively, spend per day on social media, according to a 2015 report by Common Sense Media. Another recent study said some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day (Being 13). And we haven’t even started to consider how much time children spend on video games. Or how much Mom and Dad are online; that’s a topic for another day.
With all the hours spent–and often wasted–looking at screens, perhaps the time is right for National Screen-Free Week, May 2-8. A self-imposed “fast” is a great way to reset the priorities in our lives. But if your family wants to participate, you need a plan. Take some time right now to prepare for your screen-free week. Here are seven tips that have worked for many families.
- Recruit three or four families to join you for screen-free week. Because we work better together in groups, find a few other families to commit to the week with you. Support each other by planning activities throughout the week, especially after school or work. Since video gaming can take over the transition times in our lives, try stopping by a park to play with friends on the way home. On another day, go to the library or bookstore after you pick them up, and select some new books or audiobooks. It will be more fun if you invite others. Both you and your kids will enjoy the change of pace!
- Start your morning without screens, and keep them off in the car. Re-create your routine so mornings don’t start with screens. This goes for Saturday morning, too! In the car, think of ways you can reintroduce questions that lead to meaningful conversations. While you’re at the library (See No. 1), load up on some fun music or interesting new audiobooks, and share those experiences as a family.
- Rearrange the furniture and turn the den into a no-screen zone for the week. Set up family puzzles and board games. Yes, get out a couple of card tables, if you need to. Keep TV remotes out of sight, even hide them, to eliminate unnecessary background TV. Who knows? You could have so much fun working together on that puzzle, you may never put the card table away!
- Encourage screen-free meals. Keep a basket in the laundry room to collect iPads and phones while everyone helps prepare the meal. Put on some music they enjoy, or introduce them to “oldies”–whatever music the parents like. Then engage in a true mealtime conversation. Get a list of conversation starters for tweens and teens from the internet (before you go screen free). A couple of examples: If you could invent one thing what would it be? If you had to give every human being one quality, what would it be and why?
- Initiate real free play outdoors and inside. Our website lists many ideas for “real play”. The general idea is to get your kids outside every minute you can. If you have to read a report for work, take the kids to the driveway with a bucket of sidewalk chalk. For older kids, help them rediscover some outdoor activities this week. Instead of “plugging them in” to a videogame or TV show inside, sit with them outside and get your work done. Nature is the best healer for screen-induced stress. If weather forces you inside, pull out games such as Twister for some movement. Help them re-learn to entertain themselves without screens.
- Be prepared for errands. Who says we need screens to entertain on errands? Our parents didn’t. Simply think ahead and make goodie bags for your children to replace their handheld screens. Create activity kits: paper and special markers work great for younger children, and a deck of real playing cards works well for tweens and teens. Always keep extra balls (football, soccer, a baseball with mitts) in the trunk for unexpected wait times while you’re out.
- Shut your laptop after school or work. When the kids come home from school or you come home from work, try to set aside block of time to reconnect with them. Wait to open your laptop again after they go to bed, if you must. Be available and present for eye contact and conversation. Reintroduce the ritual of reading aloud before bed; some families have continued this practice well into their teens’ high school years, by increasing the difficulty of the read-aloud selections (Think Great Expectations). Sometimes share responsibility for the reading with the older children and see who can invent the best character voices. Even if you aren’t directly interacting every minute, your presence is what your younger children, tweens and teens need most.
Your screen-free week may be a life-altering event. When you get a glimpse of how much your family really needs the break from screens, it may motivate you to retain some of these temporary changes long-term. Contact us for more ideas and information on creating a balanced screen life. www.familiesmanagingmedia.com And for more on National Screen-Free Week, go to screenfree.org
Share your screen-free stories: Please e-mail me melanie [at] familiesmanagingmedia [dot] com with stories of ways your family spent screen-free week. Send photos. With your permission, we’ll share some of those stories in this blog in the coming months.