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Jon Lasser, Ph.D.

Competing With Screens for Meaningful Connection

Simple ways to engage with your kids

The kids are out of school and parents are eager to use the holidays for some quality family time, but many of us find that it’s hard to compete with electronics. According to Common Sense Media, kids ages five to eight are spending almost three hours a day in front of screens. And while there’s great concern among parents about the impact of screens on physical activity and face-to-face communications, parental use of screens is often overlooked. One recent report found that parents spend over nine hours per day with screen media (both for work and social purposes). It’s no wonder that families find it hard to have meaningful, high-quality social interactions.

Parents who want their kids to put down the phones and tablets must model that behavior, so it’s imperative that we unplug when we ask our kids to do the same. Here are some family activities that help us engage with our kids without the interference of screen time:

Tech-Free Nature Walk

Leave the devices at home or in the car and go for a nature walk. This is a good way to get some exercise, spend time talking with each other, and feel more connected to the world beyond the screen. Kids may enjoy collecting acorns or stones, and parents may learn from their kids about science and nature. Avoid bringing a device for the camera feature (which often results in distracting text notifications) and focus on being in the moment.

Board Game Night

Turn off the electronics and sit around the table playing some board games. While some families enjoy unstructured time together, others may find that the organization and rules of a board game are ideal for bringing family members together and being engaged. Moreover, playing games together fosters social interaction, cooperation, and the development of Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Kids benefit from perspective taking, reading nonverbal cues, and using executive functioning skills like planning. Best of all, family members can enjoy being engaged in a shared experience.

WikiMedia Commons
Source: WikiMedia Commons

Some family activities are wonderfully fun and also incompatible with the use of electronic devices. Take the kids swimming, or bring them to an indoor rock climbing gym. Bake a cake for a neighbor or plant a garden. The common element of these activities is that they require family members to use their hands and to dedicate their focused attention to the task at hand. Because these activities are incompatible with screen time, you’ll find that you and your kids will get lost in the activity and forget the devices.

To be clear, technology has many benefits to parents and children, and the goal isn’t to demonize screen time or ban it. Even so, too much of a good thing can be detrimental to family time, so carving out some tech-free time can help parents and kids feel more connected to each other.

Kids may resist a top-down approach and will likely groan when parents suggest tech-free time, so be sure to seek your kids’ input and give them options. They’re more likely to have buy-in when they feel like they have a say.



About the Author

Jon Lasser, Ph.D., is a professor of school psychology at Texas State University.