The third most-common fight between parents and teens? Too much time spent messing around on smartphones (31%). Traditional fight topics, like chores (35%) and bedtime (33%) still top the list, says Common Sense Media’s 2018 report. But today, 1 in 5 parents argue with their teenaged children about device use on a daily basis. While that may seem excessive, parents are right to worry about too much screen time negatively impacting their kids. One 2017 study found a correlation between heavy social media use and depression in 8th graders. In fact, kids with 5+ hours of daily screen time typically slept less than 7 hours each night. Both adults and kids who report feeling “addicted” to their phones have higher blood pressure, anxiety and trouble paying attention.
So, what’s a concerned parent (or grandparent) to do? We’ve come up with a list of fun activities your whole family can enjoy together below. Mix these activities up however you like — the important thing to focus on is no smartphones in anyone’s hand!
Healthy Ways to Sneak In More Screen-Free Exercise for Kids & Adults Alike
This first one’s pretty easy, actually. It’s December, and regular snowstorms affect many places across the U.S. this time of year. Teens can shovel snow to either earn extra holiday cash from their neighbors or clear your home’s sidewalks and driveways. Either way, it’s great exercise that requires using both hands at all times to do. Bonus: Offering to shovel snow for your neighbors will improve your kid’s face-to-face communication skills. Kids need to learn how to engage in polite conversation with unfamiliar adults long before their first job interview. This is a perfect way to help them hone their interpersonal skills in real life.
If you (like me) live somewhere that sees little or no snow each winter, why not join your local YMCA? A national membership gives you and your family access to 2,600 Y locations across the country. It costs about $40/month for a parent and child to join for one year. Your child will enjoy indoor swimming, volleyball, kickball, soccer, gymnastics, karate and other group sports. Plus, staying active with other kids away from any screens may improve your child’s academic test scores next year. Can’t afford the cost? Ask your local Y about sliding-scale membership fees based on your monthly income.
Limit Screen Time While Learning New Skills & Giving Back To Your Community
For adults looking for positive ways to break their own screen addictions, here are just a few ideas:
- Take a ballroom dancing class or sign up for couples’ dance lessons. You can’t waltz, tango or two-step with a phone in your hand, plus it’s great exercise! (It also makes a great first-date idea for single moms and dads looking for love off-screen.) No partners available? Look for line-dancing lessons in your area. You can join solo, learn some new moves and even bring your kids along, in some cases.
- Volunteer for a day at your local ASPCA or animal shelter location. Dogs need regular walks, and cuddling a cat can actually lower your blood pressure. You’ll forget about your phone in just minutes while surrounded by four-legged friends. (And it’s a great way to meet like-minded people if you’re single!)
- Start a community garden with your kids and grow your own produce. Many cities and rural areas now feature community gardens where people can grow their own herbs and produce. These gardens provide a sustainable, healthy food source for low-income residents and teach kids valuable, hands-on skills. It’s a great way for people of all ages to connect over a common goal that benefits your whole community. Not sure where to start? Visit the USDA.gov website and start downloading their free guides! (Bonus: You can’t swipe right or tap out texts wearing gardening gloves covered in fresh soil.)
Other Tips That May Help Your Family Stop Addictive Phone Behaviors
Ultimately, kids model the same behaviors they observe in adults. I avoid checking my phone in front of kids unless it’s absolutely necessary. But what else can help limit your child’s daily screen time to an hour or less, as experts recommend? Here are just a few ideas to try:
- Make a “bedtime box” where family phones “go to sleep” every night. If possible, get a wooden jewelry box to store everyone’s phones in overnight. Charge devices during dinner, bath time, etc. Once everyone’s battery is at 100%, turn phones completely off. Then, you can “wake them up” each morning after breakfast. Even people with “on call” jobs can make this habit stick. For example: I own a “dumb phone” people can call or text for late-night work emergencies. People can still contact me, but no data plan helps me prioritize sleep above screen time.
- Keep board games the whole family can enjoy during bad-weather days indoors. Sunlight as well as active time outside help fight depression. Since you can’t control the weather, why not invest in some fun games to play indoors? Traditional favorites like Jenga and Twister are great, because you need both hands free to play well. Ticket to Ride takes an hour or less to play and teaches kids to adapt, plan, coordinate and organize. Hedbanz requires creative critical thinking and communication skills to win.
- Designate one device–free activity night each week, if possible. Devices often provide entertainment, so find an alternative with no screen. For example: Love reading your Kindle? Borrow free audiobooks from the library instead. Take a local community college class and learn how to make pottery, paint, sculpt, draw or speak American Sign Language (ASL). These skills may give your child an advantage once it’s time to apply for college.