4 Ways to Make Reality Trump Screens

Recent Canadian research found that teenagers 13-18 years of age are spending over 6.5 hours a day on a screen-based device (that’s almost the equivalent of a full-time job!). For Australian teenagers, it’s around half that at 3.3 hours a day; 4.5 hours a day for American teenagers.

However, is all this screen time such a bad thing? It seems so. A new study out of The University of Michigan makes a direct correlation between a significant and sudden drop in adolescent happiness since 2012 and the proliferation of smartphones.

So how do we make reality more interesting than being on their screens so that they want to get off their devices?

1. Get active out in nature

Research tells us that time spent out in nature helps increase blood flow to the brain, helps calm the mind, improve our mental health and enhance our learning capacity. So go hiking, bushwalking or camping.

Earlier this year our kids labelled a weekend camping at the beach, ‘one of the best holidays ever’. A recent trip to Treetops high wire adventure course surprised us as our kids found a whole new level of cooperation and support for one another as they faced their fears attached to a cable 10+ metres up in a forest.

2. Create some mystery

Children love a sense of mystery and intrigue. A couple of times we’ve jumped into the car and headed off on ‘Dad’s magical mystery tour’. This involves driving around doing a ‘random’ set of activities – ice cream at an exciting location, fish and chips on the beach, a bushwalk to lighthouse followed by a swim in the river.

By not announcing the plans before leaving home you avoid the questions and possible pre-judging the ‘coolness’ factor of the activity (A few years ago a suggested trip to the museum with our Tweens, was met with a definite ‘No thanks!’ A year later on a slow wet weekend, we went to the museum as part of a ‘mystery tour’, and we all had a blast).

When we were on holidays in Tasmania, we surprised the kids by doing an ‘escape room’ (the family is locked in a room, and given a series of clues and you have a limited amount of time to escape.  A great experience where everyone needs to work together).

3. Eat dinner as a family (and get them to cook it)

Give each child responsibility for preparing a meal for the whole family. Let them research which meal they’d like to make and let them go shopping for the ingredients.

This teaches them some invaluable life skills and helps them appreciate the effort that goes into preparing a meal every day of the year. Sitting around the table together and eating the meal (no TV in the background, no devices at the table) provides a great way to connect, talking and asking questions about what happened in everybody’s day.

4. Make their ‘virtual’ a ‘reality’

Find what they’re attracted to on their screens and find, or create, a real version. For example, our daughter’s been watching every episode of MasterChef on her laptop; so put together a box of random ingredients and create her own ‘mystery box challenge’ with time limits and the rest of the family scoring the meal at the end.

For boys who are fixated on the Ninja Warrior TV series, find a park with some exciting play equipment; determine a pre-arranged set of challenges and then time them completing it.

I believe that it’s not our role as parents to be consistently entertaining our kids. However, if screen time has become your child’s ‘part time job’, it may take an intervention with some of the above ideas to help them see that fun without screens is achievable.