I don’t know about your kids, but my boys are kind of obsessed with TV, so much so that if I merely reach for the remote control, they go into hysterics (“Puhlease, one more show!”). On the one hand, yeah, I’d love to just put on “one more show” so I can go back to my very important Facebook browsing or that high-stakes game of Candy Crush. On the other hand though, I know that I need to limit their screen time, especially when the weather is so ideal for doing fun stuff outdoors.
So I talked to Randi Zuckerberg, who literally wrote the book on unplugging (actually, she wrote two — Dot Complicated is for adults and Dot is for kids). The CEO of Zuckerberg Media has two little boys of her own — Asher, 4, and Simi, 9 months — so she totally gets it. Here, she shares some of her advice on how to shut down the electronics and lure your littles outdoors.
1. Give your kids a digital allowance. You know how a monetary allowance helps your kids learn how to budget their money? Well, a digital allowance teaches them how to manage their own screen time. With a clear allocation, you can avoid the inevitable negotiating that goes on as your kids angle for 10 more minutes. Also, it puts the onus squarely on their shoulders: They have, say, seven hours to ration throughout the week. They can either blow it in one day, or spread it out, but when they’re done, they’re done.
2. Get the whole family involved in a charity project. You always want to encourage your kids to give back, so take advantage of all of the free time they have this summer to do some good in your community. An example: Zuckerberg’s son, Asher, decided he wanted to help a zebra. So together, they discovered a program at their local zoo which allowed them to actually sponsor a zebra. They visited the zebra, followed it online, and it became a shared family interest. So, together, you can research some outdoor do-good activities like helping to clean up a local park, volunteering to walk dogs at an animal shelter, or planting a community garden. It’s not only a teaching opportunity, but provides some invaluable quality time as well
3. Encourage independent play. Let’s be honest: Sometimes, parents use screens to give themselves a break. Sure, your kids love shows and games, but you love some peace and quiet too. Instead of turning on the TV or whipping out the iPad though, set aside some independent playtime. After a long day, whether they’ve been at camp or with friends, encourage your kids to have, say, 30 minutes of downtime where they can draw with footpath chalk, dig in the mud, or kick a soccer ball around. They can even sit on your patio reading books or doing puzzles. The great thing about independent play is that it teaches kids how to be self-directed, while allowing parents to shut down for a little bit.
4. Actually use screens to draw them outdoors. If your kids are already fixated on their screens, you’re not likely to totally break the habit, but Zuckerberg suggests using them to educate your kids, as well as stimulate off-screen play. As she points out, there’s a difference between passive screen time and active, engaged screen time. For example, if you’re planning a trip to a local farm, get your little ones excited by watching a video about farming. Want to make dinner together? Turn on a cooking tutorial to get them interested in joining you in the kitchen. Show them a how-to video on creating your own butterfly garden or flying a kite or making a birdhouse and yeah, you can pretty much guarantee they’re going to be psyched about doing it themselves.