Do your children seem to be consistently asking you if they can play on their i-pad/DS/tablet/whatever other mobile digital device they can get their hands on?! These days it’s the most common default for a type of activity for kids to do, where they don’t need to use their imaginations or to think about any other sort of activity they may like to engage in.
It’s difficult at times when your children continually ask for your permission to play online – or worse still, when they just take it upon themselves to play online without asking you first. You’re busy and your mind is on other things. How are you supposed to come up with ideas for them to do off the top of your head when your concentrating on what you’re supposed to be doing? And anyway, why can’t your children think for themselves and come up with another activity to do that doesn’t involve a screen?
The thing is, the reason children often ask to play on their screens is because it’s the first thing they think of to do. It’s like their default mechanism – I have some time to play, what game can I play online? The words “Can I play on my ipad?” have effectively replaced that awful phrase that none of us ever what to hear: “I’m bored!”
How Much Screen Time Is OK?
Of course it’s perfectly OK for your children to play on their screens to some extent, providing the games they’re playing are safe and that they play them in moderation. It’s when these two conditions aren’t met that trouble can arise.
You know if your children aren’t good when they’ve been using screens for too long. They become very agitated and angry when it’s time for them to turn the screen off, and their behaviour changes in an unpleasant way! I’ve been there, done that, and I know how it works. Some children can handle more screen time than others; they’re all different and you are in the best position to know how much screen time your children can handle before it starts affecting their behaviour in a negative way.
The Strategy That Worked For Me
The most helpful thing I’ve done to encourage my children to play off-line is to sit down with them and come up with a list together of fun things they can do in their spare time which don’t involve screens. The typed A4 page list we came up with lives on our fridge for easy reference. Some of those activities are outdoors and some are indoors. Some require other people to play with and some can be done by children on their own. Some activities are sporty while others are more creative. There’s a wide range of activities on the list so that regardless of what type of mood my children are in at the time, they can always find something there that they’d like to do.
Of course, this list isn’t going to be the same for your 9 year old child as it is for your 5 year old. As your children grow they’ll develop more interests, and will lose the desire to play with things they enjoyed when they were younger. So the idea is to keep updating the list so that it stays relevant and helpful for your children to refer to at those times when they can’t otherwise think of anything else to do.
Here is the list I currently use with my children as a template of ideas for you. You may like to add some to your list, or come up with a completely different set of ideas that your children love. If you’d like to share some of your ideas of things to do in the comments below we’d love to read them. They may spark ideas for others that may be very helpful in those times of need!
Things To Do That Don’t Involve Screens
Play at the park
Cards – patience, build card houses, clock game
Play with pets
Dominoes – build patterns/play game
Practice musical instruments
Card games – eg Uno, snap, 8’s, 7’s, rummy, fish, beat your neighbour
It often seems like children these days don’t know how to keep themselves amused without aids, the most common of which being digital devices. However sometimes it may be appropriate for your children to have nothing to do. This may be a scary prospect for some parents and sure, your children may complain initially. But sooner or later if forced to use their imaginations, you’ll be amazed at what they can do.
The last time I left my sons with nothing to do, they built a tent out of chairs and blankets. When I went to see what they were up to I heard plenty of giggles from inside the tent. My sons were actually playing together peacefully and they were having a ball – yet if I’d allowed them to play on their screens as they’d asked just a few minutes earlier, they would never have experienced this type of quality time together.
Hopefully coming up with your own list with your children, and leaving it somewhere that is easy to find, will help you immensely at those times when your children are begging to play online and you know it’s not the best thing for them to be doing. Remember: it’s all about moderation and encouraging your children to enjoy a health balance between their online world and their offline world.