The worst part of trying to kick kids off screens to do something “more productive” is that they seem to have no idea how to be productive. I sometimes think that my kids have forgotten how to have fun without a screen. When I start to doubt, I know it’s time to ban them from screens for a few days to encourage them to do other things.
In the beginning, they look at me blankly. A life without a screen? What does that even mean?
It’s sheer torture for the first little while when I ban the screens. They are restless, bored, often angry. They willfully forget how to do anything whatsoever that doesn’t involve their iPad. They want to punish me for taking the screens away in the first place.
I stay as calm as possible and subtly nudge them in the right direction. It’s too much energy to stay angry and bored, so they are soon immersed in cool, creative, imaginative activities for older kids – either solo or together. Result.
Here are some ways to nudge your own kids towards less screen time.
10 activities for older kids
1. Interview each other
It’s quite amazing how often we usually avoid asking direct questions, so an interview can be very revealing. If you have more than one kid, it’s easy to find an interview candidate because they can just interview each other. Otherwise, a friend is always a good idea or you could be the interviewer/interviewee for your child. Your kid might like to keep a notebook of interviews they have conducted.
Start with this list of 21 questions to ask each other and go from there.
2. Open a day / night spa
This is a fun one to invite friends to. You can create a lovely spa atmosphere one night at home, complete with soft music (please, no pan pipes), soft lighting and some delicious essential oils burning. For the full experience, warm some towels in the microwave (wet then wring out a towel until it’s just damp then nuke on high for about 30 seconds – take care!). Use plain, unfragranced cleansers, toners, masks and moisturisers, preferably organic. Take photos when you’ve got the mask on.
Take the experience next level by making your own:
3. Write a play
Of course, the kids will see this as ‘write a movie’ and that’s okay too. Get them to stage their play with costuming and set design and make it into a movie for them to watch when it’s screen time.
The play doesn’t have to be complex or lengthy, try some of these ideas to get you going:
• Something unexpected happens during a routine family trip to the beach
• What happened when an alien came to school
• A group of kids have to save the world from zombie adults
• Chaos at the international pie eating competition
• Time travel back to when I was a baby
• I discovered the teachers at school are androids working for…
• When every kind of weather happens one minute after the next
• I’m off to visit the prime minister to tell him what needs to change
• A frog was living in a pond and one day he met a teenage boy
• A family isn’t who they seem to be
• Watch the amazing bully-busting machine in action
• What happens when the kid who could fly forgets how to
• The conversation I had with an owl late one night
• The story of my life so far
4. Walk somewhere new
You can’t beat a bushwalk, but you might not live near the bush. A city walk or a beach walk or a riverside walk works just as well. Take a mate or two, plenty of water, and perhaps a picnic and off you go. If you take your phone you’re contactable and have a map (just in case!) and maybe some music, but don’t even think about using any apps or games! No, you don’t need Pokemon Go to be able to enjoy a walk… There’s a lot to think about when you’re walking along. You can observe the world around you, or explore the world inside your head. Either way is very good.
5. Create a comic strip
Combine your love of drawing and storytelling by starting your own comic strip. You can create your own characters, or bring to life well-loved characters. (Cartooning4Kids has loads of YouTube tutorials you can watch during screen time.) It’s really fun to create a regular strip. You can either add a new scenario each time, or create a “To be continued” ongoing storyline. Cliff-hangers are great for leaving your audience (Mum, Dad, siblings, friends, your teacher) hanging. Da, da,daaaaaa!
6. Make a mandala
A mandala is a circular figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. It represents ‘wholeness’ and creating a mandala is a very calming, mindful thing for you to do. You can make a mandala using pen and paper, nature or even a paper plate. There’s a good tutorial on drawing your own mandala on Craftsy. Or you can colour in some free printable mandalas.
7. Try yoga
Practising yoga is good for concentration, stress-release, body image and relaxation. It’s actually brilliant at reminding us that only our breath counts in the end. So, have a go. You can join a local class (many yoga schools have classes especially for tweens and teens). You can find a good online school too. I’m not sure if watching and doing a yoga class online counts as screen time… I’m going to say no. Here are three to try – find the one that suits you best:
8. Plant some bulbs
Bulb planting is repetitive and that’s the point. Doing the same thing over and over in the sunshine helps you relax and switch off. Focus your attention only on the planting, not on your homework, or your video games, or your favourite YouTube video. Just the bulbs. You’ll be rewarded for your mindfulness come spring or summer.
Good bulbs to plant in early autumn ready for spring are freesias, jonquils, daffodils, tullips and hyacinth. For summer colour, plant these bulbs in the spring: dahlias, begonias, cannas, gladioli and tuberose.
9. Listen to an audiobook
How nice to have someone read to you. Pick a quiet spot, pop on your headphones and hit ‘play’. Perhaps start at book one of the Harry Potter series. It’s a cracker audiobook as it’s read by thespian Stephen Fry.
Other highly rated audiobooks include:
• Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton
• The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, read by Carolyn McCormick
• Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read by Cherry Jones
• The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, read by Neil Gaiman
• Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, read by Cherry Jones
• Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery, read by Rachel McAdams
• James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt
10. Volunteer your time
If you think not having screens in your life all the time is boring, you’ve probably just got too much time on your hands. Kids can volunteer to do all sorts of things. Your local library might need you to stack books. You can pull weeds for Bushcare. Help a younger kid learn to read. Ask at your school, church or just around your neighbourhood to see what you can do. It’s a very rewarding past time. Check out Volunteering Australia for opportunities near you.
What things do your kids like to get up to?