My wife and I have a rule that our children are not allowed to use technology, including TV, during the week unless it’s needed to complete homework. Even on Saturdays, their technology time is limited to two hours. Since most of our friends have similar rules for their kids and since our street is filled with children playing every evening, we assumed that our family was the norm. Apparently, we live a very sheltered life because it turns out that we are not.
According to a CNN report, “teens in the US spend about nine hours [a day] using media for their enjoyment.” The Houston Chronicle reported that “for Tweens, those between 8 and 12, the average is nearly six hours a day.” Those numbers are astounding to me.
I was prompted to research the numbers because I heard a local radio station bemoaning how technology keeps kids from playing outside. They asked parents to call in and share ways to encourage children to put the technology down and go outside. Every single caller that I heard had nothing of substance to offer, and most expressed the same helplessness as the DJs in the face of this problem. I considered calling in and offering some parenting advice, but quickly decided that I’d write an article instead and get paid for it. Below are five foolproof ways to get your kids to put down their technology and go outside.
1. Kick your kids outside
This first one seems so basic and self-evident as to make me feel somewhat silly even mentioning it. However, I’m learning to not make assumptions about technology, kids, and other parents. So, in case this first one is not as self-evident as it seems to me, physically take your kids’ technology away and kick them outside. Give them some water bottles and lock the door if necessary. If they’re bored, so what? It’ll be good for them to be bored. Plus, they’ll be outside sans technology, and that’s what you want, right? However, I understand that not every parent is completely comfortable with allowing their children to be bored, so I offer four more ways to get your kids off technology and outside.
2. Sign them up for a sports league
It doesn’t really matter which sports league because your kids ain’t going pro anyway. One thing to look for in a sports league is how many of your children’s friends are signed up. For many kids, activities are more fun when done in concert with friends. If needed, be the parent who organizes everyone signing up together. Many sports leagues allow people to request teammates (and coaches).
3. Join a local pool
Kids love to go swimming. It’s great exercise and a potentially life-saving skill to boot. Furthermore, providing your children opportunities to develop their swimming skills is also a great way to set them up for a non-boring job for when they’re in high school. Being a lifeguard tends to pay better than fast food restaurants, and it’s a physical activity that discourages teens from becoming couch potatoes.
4. Foster an entrepreneurial spirit in your children
One way to develop the desire to go outside in your children is to teach them that there is money to be made in your front yard (or the front yards of your neighbors). Introduce your children to lemonade stands. Or if they’re big enough, buy them a lawn mower and then tell them that they owe you the cost of the mower (my dad did that to me when I was in sixth grade). Not only are these outdoor activities, but they also help build skills like teamwork, planning, and an understanding of basic economics. Our daughter now despises socialism because we told her that Bernie Sanders would make her give half of her lemonade stand earnings to her brother who didn’t help her with the stand. Two birds with one stone and all.
That leaves one final foolproof thing to do to get your kids off of technology and outside, and it’s the most important one of the five.
5. Be the parent
For those of you who bemoan the amount of time that your kids spend on technology, I have a question. You do realize that you’re the parent, right? I mean, if your kids are spending too much time on technology and not enough time outside, that’s your fault. Be the parent. And for those who are sputtering, “Come on, John! It’s more complicated than that!” No. No, in fact, it’s not more complicated than that. Be the parent, take your kids’ technology away, and make them go outside. Problem solved.