Ever since I got my iPhone a year ago, I feel like I have suffered an amputation if I leave the thing at home for even a few minutes. I do use iMapMyRun to track my workouts, but the technology approaches a point of absurdity when I stop jogging to update my status.
My kids are just as bad: there was a period of about two years when I almost forgot what they looked like because I never saw their actual faces, just the tops of their heads as they bent over a 3DS, iPod touch, or cell phone.
So I have come to the conclusion that I need to set the gadgets aside and make breaks in my days in which I leave my phone, and force the kids to separate from their electronics, and we will interact with one another face-to-face, in some format that involves breathing air, consuming oxygen and getting (gasp) exercise.
I think this transition is like weaning a child off the pacifier: you have to give them something to replace it, you can’t just take it away cold turkey. So, during phone-free time, I will try instituting one of the following substitutes.
Electronics Replacement Therapies
- Dancing. Let the kids crank their music up and have a dance party in the living room. It’s best to do this with younger kids—teens may be crippled by paranoia that “fun with parents” will somehow end up on Facebook.
- Walking/Running. Take your kids on an electronics-free walk or jog. Not having music or a GPS will force you, and your kids, to talk to each other.
- Trampoline. My neighbors across the street have a trampoline, and every afternoon, you can find approximately 30 kids bouncing on it. I would not recommend so much volume, but a single kid safely using a trampoline can get a great non-electronic workout.
- Nerf Guns. What kid doesn’t want to shoot their siblings? With a couple of NERF or water guns, the kids can run around outdoors and get a lot more exercise than they would tossing Angry Birds.
- Swinging. Swinging is gentle exercise that works the arms, legs and abdominal muscles. Plus, it’s fun and it doesn’t feel like work.
- Gymnastics. You can practice cartwheels, somersaults, and other simple maneuvers outside on the grass. If you aren’t up to performing a backflip, you can always spot your kids and help them with basic tumbling skills.
- Neighborhood games: Whenever neighborhood kids start to gather around the Wii, make a concrete suggestion for an alternate outdoor activity. For example, instead of saying, “Why don’t you go outside and play,” make it a command statement and say, “Go play zombie tag or capture the flag.”
- Get disorganized. Organized sports are wonderful, but there is a simple beauty to a casual pickup game. As a parent, you can encourage your child to orchestrate a fun afternoon of backyard baseball, street hockey, touch football, or basketball with their friends.
If at first you meet resistance to phone-free time, then insist. Make it a requirement, but once you have their attention, make it fun. Do what they like to do. Think of yourself as the child’s personal trainer, designing an outdoor activity that suits him instead of bringing him along on a workout that’s made for you.