Unplug Your Child!

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Updated on Mar 6, 2009

Many adults remember a childhood spent romping outdoors, or at least being booted to the backyard after school. Todays tweens and teens spend more time in front of screens than ever before. This trend is due to a variety of reasons, including greater access to technology and more parents at work full-time, leading to less supervision in the after-school hours. Plus, eighty percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas – not ideal places for kids to explore forested and mountainous landscapes buzzing with wildlife. But, there are still ways you can unplug your child for a few hours, or at least incorporate some old-fashioned learning into their tech routine. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a “No-Tech Zone.” Switch off electronics in your home for an evening. For more ambitious parents, establish a “technology fast” one weekend a month.
  • Pitch a tent in the backyard and sleep under the stars. Grab sleeping bags, snacks, and playing cards. Don’t go inside the house until the morning.
  • Assign photo-essays that chronicle different aspects of your child’s life. Lend your camera, or buy them a disposable or basic one, to shoot photomontages of their neighborhood, hobbies, or school life every few weeks.
  • Award cell phone minutes only when chores are completed. Certain duties – washing the car or scrubbing the entire bathroom – should be worth more airtime.
  • Foster an awareness of their surroundings. Try this activity: blindfold your child in a park, and then in a mall (preferably where none of his friends hang out.) Urge him to listen to and rely on sounds as you guide him for 20 minutes.
  • Create a shared office space. Position your child's computer so its screen is exposed, which may keep him focused on schoolwork. If he uses a laptop, keep it on his desk and don’t allow it to be used on the sofa, floor, or outdoors. Maintain a professional environment with rules, and treat your child's space with respect.
  • Go geocaching, the high-tech version of treasure hunting. Using a handheld GPS unit, search for “caches” – containers of various “treasures” – all over the world.  
  • Display a calendar for family members to sign up for Internet time. Set a weekly limit.
  • Find a penpal overseas through a traditional pen-and-paper organization, like International Pen Friends Club, which prefers writing letters to e-mails.
  • If something must be on, play music on your household’s stereo system instead of watching TV. Encouraging music appreciation doesn’t require headphones, and this way, you can actually have a conversation once in a while!
  • Splurge and give the real thing, if possible. If they like bowling on the Wii, buy a bowling ball and go to the alley. If they watch skateboarding videos on YouTube, purchase a skateboard and visit a skate park. If you take a sliver of the virtual world away, replace it with its real counterpart.
  • Stay active! Ride bikes, plant in the garden, play the piano or guitar, venture to the children’s theater, or visit the zoo or an interactive science exhibit. Parents must unplug, too, or kids won’t follow suit.
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