Let’s be honest, the great outdoors has been upstaged lately by the comfy and plugged-in environment that is the modern American home. So, for you parents who want your kids playing outside like you did growing up, this can be an uphill battle.
I’m not a child psychologist or a doctor for that matter, just a dad who recognizes the value of exposing my children to the outdoors. Below are a few principles my wife Kristy and I have learned while striving to get our four kids, ages 4-13, outside.
Don’t Set Limits
Like most parents we have tried setting limits on screen time. The problem there is screen time then becomes a reward and they’ll go outside to appease you in anticipation of their screen time (and yes, this is what my kids tell me). Outside becomes the veggies and screen time gets to be the dessert. Also, the amount of energy required to keep on top of the rules we parents set is exhausting and over time our resolve slowly wanes.
For young kids, ages 6 and up, try to sit them down and have them set their own boundaries for screen time. This is about finding a balance and getting your child to understand and appreciate that balance. Allowing them to own the rules gives them skin in the game. It’s our job as parents to monitor the child’s ability to keep those boundaries and help them adjust them as needed.
It’s important that you never make them feel guilty for liking devices. Heck, we all like devices but we all like chocolate cake too. Remember, the goal here is to create a culture of playing outside. It may take a while for them to acclimate to this idea as playing outside doesn’t provide the same dopamine hit they get when on devices. So hang in there and remember going outside is what kids are supposed to do, it’s not natural for kids to be inside. They jump on furniture, make messes, pester you, and tend to eat junk food. So never feel guilty about insisting that they go outside.
Bored is Good
It seems to be almost a crime today when our children become tragically bored. How could this happen with the latest in toy technology and a DVD collection that puts Red Box to shame? When your child says they are bored never attempt to cure their boredom. Resist the temptation to entertain your child. You feed, clothe, love and shelter them but you are not responsible for entertaining them so please don’t carry that added burden.
Only they can overcome this and it’s a great life lesson you deny them when you attempt to solve boredom for them. Allow them the space to explore the magical world of boredom. From that place comes creativity and inspiration. Two things rarely associated with screen devices.
I hear a lot of parenting advice about creating a fun yard with trampolines, zip lines, etc. These things are fun for a season but quickly lose their luster. Kids are designed to be creative innovators who excel at making something out of nothing, so help your kids unleash that life skill. There’s no need to fund outdoor adventure for your kids. Their outdoor time should be primarily fueled by raw unbridled kid power, it’s a lot cheaper too.
When my kids say, “I’m bored” I reply with a few suggested activities. If that fails I say, “I’m sorry you’re bored. Why don’t you go outside and play or I’ll give you some chores to do”. They quickly find something to cure their boredom.
What’s Tech Good For?
When one my kids asked if I had internet when I was a child I told them we had an encyclopedia. Something we continually communicate to our kids is what the internet is good for and what it is not. We encourage our kids to use the internet in short sessions to inspire them to go do, learn or make something. When kids are allowed to spend an unmeasured amount of time online that’s when they are sure to wander where they shouldn’t. Keep their sessions short and focused, not long and aimless. It’s for this reason we don’t recommend kids having access to the world wide web at night. Phones should be placed at a central location at night before bed. If your kids are going to get in trouble online statically it will happen late at night when you’re asleep.
So remember, don’t let screen time be the chocolate cake, give them a voice in setting limits, allow them to be bored, internet is best at inspiring kids to create not consume. Get in the habit of saying “go outside and play” and let their little creative minds figure it out from there.
Resources for outdoor activities for kids and families.
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