My oldest son has the most beautiful head of blonde hair I have ever seen. I know this is an odd statement, but it’s true. I have been stopped by strangers in public who compliment me on his cool hair, even though he is past the cute baby stage and well into the gangly preteen years. It’s the envy of his friends (I’m not lying about this,) and a color many women pay hundreds of dollars to maintain.
But for me personally, I’m tired of seeing it.
Let me rephrase. I’m tired of seeing just the very top of his hair as he stares down, neck craned in that awkward “I’m staring at my phone” posture. I want to see his eyes. I want to interact with something other than his beautiful hair. I feel like I’ve lost my son to technology and I’m tired of it. His cell phone has taken over his mind like an alien, if an alien were to cost us $49.99 extra for unlimited data and texting.
On top of the worries about the electronic vortex stealing him away from precious family time, a recent groundbreaking study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that not only are phones addicting, but there is a strong relationship between depression in teens and screen time. And that’s enough to make me sit up and listen and figure out how to get him off his phone.
But exactly how I am going to do that… well, that’s the mystery. Because unlike younger ones who are easily entertained, tweens are, by nature, tough customers. As products of their generation they have flea-like attention spans and as products of their age, they are cynics and doubters, quick to roll the eyes and dismiss things as “uncool.”
So, as any good mom does, I took myself right on over to Pinterest to get some ideas. I needed to know what to do to get my son to look up every once in a while. But much to my dismay, when it comes to teens and tweens there isn’t much out there for struggling moms like myself. Sure, there are lots of articles, but most of them focus on the younger crowd. And as much as it pains me to admit it, my tween is just not about to get entertained by playing Legos. He’s not.
So what do we do?
Well, after chatting with the experts and my fellow moms, we came up with a few ideas that are surefire tween-approved alternatives to electronics. No, they probably won’t get you a complete phone-free reprieve, but they will get some valuable and rare connected time with your tween and their friends.
Here are some tips to keep your child’s eyes off the screen:
Gone are the days of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. But tweens and teens have rapidly developing minds and reasoning skills, so now is the time to break out the games you actually like to play. Chess and Backgammon are classic games that will grab your logical thinker while Risk and Axis and Allies will appeal to your strategic minds. And don’t count out the just plain fun games of Pictionary and Scattegories. Big kids love to play them and they provide great family bonding time as well.
2. Get Outside
If you can get them there, kids all tend to grow and come alive in the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be a big trip; a simple basketball and a hoop or a local baseball diamond inspires tweens to move. There is nothing my boys love more than tossing the football with their dad and it is always sure to pull them away from their phones. A family hike or walk is a great after-dinner activity for the whole family too.
3. Enlist The Mom Army
When my middle son was showing signs of a severe Fornite addiction that was causing some less-than-desirable behavior problems we decided to call for reinforcements: reaching out to our close-knit circle of friends. And after chatting with a few of these fellow parents we quickly realized we weren’t alone. From these conversations our “No Fortnite After School” play group was created. Twice a week, our parent group would take turns hosting five boys after school for an electronic-free play date. Healthy snacks were served, play was outside (and boisterous), and the habit of hitting the “On” switch immediately after walking in the door was broken. Having friends join in on the anti-screen time initiative helps make it more attractive to your big kids and will appeal to their very social natures too.
I know this seems like work, but tweens and teens are a very unique breed. They are driven with a sense of idealism, so service projects are perfect for them. Giving back and helping doesn’t have to be complicated, but creating a project or enrolling them in an already existing service effort appeals to their civic-minded generation and also opens their hearts to a lifetime of empathy and service as well.
5. Learn a Life Skill
Before we sound like everyone’s grandfather, bemoaning the times when we fixed things ourselves and didn’t always need the next new thing to be happy, hear us out. Trades like car repair, sewing, and cooking are falling by the wayside. Gone are the days where Home Economics and Shop Class were a staple of high school class schedules. Spend time teaching your big kid skills that will carry them through the rest of their lives. Have a great muffin recipe? Pass it down and teach them as you bake. Know how to change the oil in your car? Get your teen out with you so they can do it themselves when the time comes. They not only will enjoy learning something truly helpful for their lives, but they’ll also spend precious minutes bonding with you as you teach them. And you don’t need me to tell you just how important that is.
I think it goes without saying that all of these activities require one thing from us as parents: participation. That groundbreaking study was focused on our kids, but I can’t help but feel that it applies to us as well. If we look up, look out, and start to interact too, it will be a lot easier to get our kids to do it. Spend time with them in their last few years at home. Teach them things, talk to them, and listen. They won’t remember that funny text their friend sent, but I can guarantee they will remember those minutes spent with you.
Ask Dr. Zoe – Handling My Teen’s Anger
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Ask Dr. Zoe – My Child’s Screen Addiction, How Do I Limit It?
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