Teens, Dads and the Great Digital Divide
Your son asked for twelve Xbox games for his birthday. Nothing else. Your daughter's eyes are glued to her phone from the moment she gets home from school until it’s time for bed.
The only time you can pull them away is when you yell, “Dinner!” and even then you’re lucky if you can get a complete sentence out of them, fork in one hand, device in the other.
Sound familiar? I feel your pain.
When Did Parents Lose Their Power?
Kids have control of the family unit. It used to be that when dad said “jump,” the kids said, “yes sir!” Now, with computers, high-tech phones, high-definition TV and wireless Internet everywhere, parents are hard-pressed to keep their kids engaged, let alone obedient.
Of course, parenting isn’t about creating obedient kids. If you wanted to do that, you’d get a dog. You had kids because you wanted a family, and your kids don’t seem to feel that same passion for closeness that you do.
But there’s plenty you can do to reverse the damage of the digital divide.
It's Time to Unplug
Unplug everything. Even go do far as to switch the circuit breakers and cut power at the source if necessary. It sounds extreme, but crazy times call for extreme measures.
Even if you just pull the cord from the WiFi router, most games and digital activities will be put on hold. You’ll get some push back at first, but nothing worth having ever came easy, and reviving the relationship with your kids means making them a little unhappy at the onset.
Start with a metaphorical unplugging: “Kids, from six ‘til eight every night we’re going to sit down like a family and eat dinner, then hang out and talk about our day.” “Uggggghhhhh,” is a realistic response to expect.
If you get outright defiance—or worse, pure death stares and utter silence—resort to extremes and force them offline. Tough love, in moderation, does work!
Find Something Better (for Everyone) To Do
One of the best ways to start to ween your teens and tweens away from their devices is to provide alternative activities.
Now don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying you should play into the "I'm booooooored..." complaints by making it your responsibility to entertain your children.
However, your kids will be more likely to detach from their screens if they are provided alternative activities (and a little "encouragement" to do so).
Once they get used to not always being on their devices, they'll be able to come up with activities on their own. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Ten things your family can do together (that doesn't involve a screen).
- Play a board game. Yes, those are still a thing and they can be really fun! Settlers of Catan (af) is one of my personal favorites.
- Go outside and play catch.
- Have a dodge ball game with the neighbor kids.
- Have a Nerf gun (af) fight (inside or outside).
- Start a garden together.
- Have a family bowling tournament (don't forget the trophy for the champ).
- Take the family out to a trampoline arena (they're fun, and great exercise).
- Go have a day at the beach or pool (don't forget sunscreen!).
- Go hit the trails on your mountain bikes (af) for a few hours.
- Head down to a park or the lake and have a family picnic.
Make Friends With the Enemy
We live in a technological world, and most kids—and adults!—unwind with some sort of device; video games, mobile apps, online video streaming and even keeping up a blog.
Unwinding after a long day at work or school is something every person, regardless of age, needs to do in order to maintain a healthy life. When homework is done and dinner is finished, expecting the family to sit down and spend the rest of the evening enjoying each other’s company might seem like a relaxation method of the olden days.
But it doesn’t have to be, if you do it right.
Teach them about healthy ways to incorporate technology and video games into their lives—have them invite friends over for a tournament using their favorite go-kart racing game, or challenge them to a "battle royale" in a digital boxing match.
Don’t try to convince your kids that video games are the enemy. Instead, help them stay social and involved while still playing their favorite games. They’ll be a lot more likely to open up to you—whether it’s about trouble they’re having at school, or trouble they’re having beating a level of their favorite game—if they feel like you understand where they’re coming from.