Ditch the Devices & Get the Whole Family Moving
I try to avoid using the saying “The Good Old Days,” but in today’s highly technologically-advanced world, it’s hard not to use it. And yes, here it comes…
When I was kid…
We played outside. We didn’t have a choice. I laughingly recall standing at the front door during summer, face red and sweaty from running around, begging to come inside for a drink. Okay, that’s my child’s mind embellishing it a bit—we didn’t have to beg for a drink—but the point is, we played.
And we played outside—and so did other kids. There was never a scarcity of neighborhood kids to play with.
We played Freeze Tag, TV Tag, hopscotch, hide-and-seek, Red Rover, What Time Is It Mr. Fox, Mother May I, Red Light Green Light, Frisbees, Wiffleball, and Kickball—and dared whoever kicked the ball over the neighbor’s fence to climb over it and snatch the ball before their dog, a Basset Hound named Lightening, came screaming out of his house to chase us, his long, floppy ears flying out behind him.
We climbed trees and swung from the branches. We did cartwheels and round-offs (I have a scar on my knee to prove a bad landing) and rode bikes.
We tossed the baseball around, jumped rope, flew kites, and hula-hooped (well, I attempted to anyway).
We roller-skated and skateboarded down what seemed like a gigantic hill at the end of our street. Going back now, I see it’s just a small noll (hey, everything looks bigger from a kid’s perspective).
If we were at my grandparent’s farm, just four miles from our house, we fished in the ponds, walked through warm cow manure barefoot (you haven’t lived until you’ve had the warm squish of cow poop between your toes!), fed the animals, “helped” my Gramps and aunt milk the cows (and run when milk came squirting at us), swam in the pool, and jumped on the pogo stick.
How many kids do you see playing like this anymore? Probably not many.
Instead, our kids are living in caves, eyes glued to screens, watching garbage that adds nothing but trouble to their brains and bodies.
Case in point: A 2022 report in BMC Public Health suggests that young children who go over the recommended one-hour screen time limit experience developmental deficits, specifically in the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive health domains.
But when parents limit screen time, research suggests positive results. For example, a 2022 study in JAMA Pediatrics links less screen time, instigated by parental interventions, with an increase in physical activity.
But how do you get your kids off the phones and out the door? Here are five tips to get them—and you—moving.
5 Tips for Getting Kids Off the Devices and Moving Outside
Assuming you own the phones, computers, tablets, and gaming systems and pay the bills for them to run, you have a right (and I dare say, a responsibility) to decide how and when those devices are used (and even if your teen is paying for theirs, if they still live under your roof, the same parental rights apply, in my opinion). You also have a right to check those devices. This is made easier by setting clear boundaries—and putting them in writing.
I’m a fan of writing up contracts, especially as kids get older and take on more responsibilities. Lay out the rules for using the devices and make sure everyone understands them, including the consequences of breaking the rules. Then have each one sign the contract, make copies for each person, and also hang a copy of the contract for all to see. Then the tough part—the follow-through. You must follow through with the consequences if they break the rules. Yes, they might “hate” you for a bit…but not for long if they want it back.
Be a Role Model
Parents are kids’ first role models. Don’t give them any ammunition to use against you, claiming that you’re a hypocrite—like telling them to get off the devices and go outside while you’re face-deep in your own devices, scrolling through social media, and never go outside to “play”). And while I do not believe parents should have to entertain the kids, it does help them to become more active if the parents are also active—including together as a family. This can be as simple as going for a walk after dinner most nights or discovering a new swimming hole in your area.
Introduce Them to Games You Played as a Kid
Depending on your age, you may or may not remember or recognize the games I mentioned earlier in this article. Do an internet search of the games, or borrow or buy a book, like 101 Playground Games, to get ideas.
Sit down and design a simple obstacle course with your kids. Have them draw it out and then create it in your yard. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Use what you’ve already got. Or do a nature scavenger hunt. Go camping or hiking. Visit the local park. Plant a garden. Mow the lawn. Rake the lawn. Walk dogs. Stack wood. Assign each kid a housekeeping duty, crank the music, and make it a dance party (yes, I’ve been known to dance with my vacuum). Formal exercise isn’t the only thing that counts as physical activity.
Get a map of the U.S. or another part of the world and map out a route from point “A” to your destination; decide how many miles each family member needs to contribute to the “trip” each week to get to your destination. This is where some inexpensive pedometers come in handy, or measure out a trail in your yard or neighborhood so that you know the distance. Plan a fun, active adventure when you get to your “destination.”
Physical Activity Inside Counts, Too
While I love seeing kids getting outdoors more, I know that sometimes that’s not possible. What are some ways to be more active indoors? There are all kinds of exercise, yoga, tai chi, and boot camp types of videos out there. You could teach your kids very basic exercises that only require their own body weight, like push-ups, squats, and planks. Get some fun, kid-friendly exercise equipment and teach a “class” a couple of times a week.
Becoming more active doesn’t have to be a burden or “one more thing” you need to add to your plate. By cutting down on screen and device time, you make space for physical activity. And by adding music (and maybe a little competition) to activities you already do, you can sneak movement into your family’s day without them knowing that they’re exercising. Make movement fun again!