Screen-free Parenting

Put down your phone, friends. Your kids need you.

by Michael Levin | Updated 22 Jul 2015 at 6:20 AM

Our kids are wedded to their screens. Smartphones, iPads, Xboxes, PS4s — you name it, they’re on it.

Too often we’re also staring at our own devices when we should be spending time with our kids. We’re checking emails, texting, and web surfing right in front of them, sometimes missing key moments. A new study finds this behavior could be negatively impacting our children. When ConsumerWatch did an informal playground survey, it found that children actually feel sad when they see their parents on the phone.

We need to engage with our children one on one, big person to little person. Time is slipping by. If we’re not careful we’ll blink and their childhoods will be over — and we’ll lose a vital window for bonding with our kids, teaching them key lessons and expressing our love, care and support.

An informal playground survey found that children actually feel sad when they see their parents on the phone.

Here are five ways to create face time with our kids (not FaceTime) for connections and memories that will last a lifetime:

1: Get your kid a library card if you haven’t already.

Sure, it sounds retro, but there just might be some books in the public library your kids should read. You may find something intriguing, too.

Some parents bring their kids to a regular reading group. For me, with four kids, Little League, ballet rehearsals, piano classes and homework, a regular library group isn’t an option at the moment. I like going to the children’s book section with my kids and watching as they move — over time — from picture books to chapter books to novels. I like the peaceful environment of the library. I sense my kids like it, too. There’s a lot to be said for the serendipity that occurs when one of my kids finds a new author to treasure.

2: Play catch.

It sounds so “babyish,” but having a catch with dad is very satisfying for both boys and girls. My 7-year-old daughter adores batting practice — a soft toss from her father, making contact with the ball, and then running the imaginary bases while her 12-year-old brother fields.

What makes playing catch so great? The child gets a parent’s undivided attention outside of homework, chores or discipline.

One of my 12-year-old twin sons has discovered the joys of pitching, so he loves warming up his arm. It’s fun for me to get into the catcher’s crouch, hold up the glove, set a target and watch him go through his pitching motion. Where he acquired it, I have no idea.

What makes playing catch so great? The child gets a parent’s undivided attention outside of homework, chores or discipline. There’s an equality between us when we toss a ball back and forth. The rhythmic thwap of the ball in the mitt creates a peacefulness and timelessness no smartphone or tablet could ever share.

3: Take your daughter to the mall.

No matter how uncool you think you might be in her eyes, she would love to go to the mall with you and show you her favorite stores. (True if she’s 14 or younger. Older teenagers are another story.)

The stores your pre-teen daughter prefers probably sell makeup and beauty products. Take the time to let her show you what she likes without judgment or criticism. Take this wise position: “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”

Related: Tips from My Dad, for My Kids

Girls’ feelings about their appearance are critical. Dad, take her seriously, even if you think makeup is a waste of time and money. If this is what she loves, respect her for it. Your daughter needs your unconditional love and undivided time more than an iPhone or a credit card — and it’s your job to provide it.

This can also be a teachable moment about how to use money wisely. If she’s saved money from her allowance, let her use that while you kick in the other half of the cost. Her purchases will have more value if she has some skin in the game.

4: Get your kid a guest pass to your gym.

Lots of people work out at home or go running in their down time. I’m a gym rat. I like seeing other people work hard to take care of their bodies — it inspires me. And bringing your son or daughter to see it as well and work out with you is a great way to bond.

A buddy of mine, a former Mr. California bodybuilder, taught me years ago how to lift weights. Showing my kids how to exercise each muscle group and use each piece of equipment has been a terrific experience for all of us.

5: Take part in service activities.

Gather your kids up and bring food or clothing to a homeless shelter or other facility. Let your kids have face-to-face contact with people who have far less than they do. It might be a little frightening for them at first, but they’ll no longer take what they have for granted.

Related: A Summer of Service ‘Un-brats’ Kids

These out-of-our-comfort-zone visits shook up my kids. They saw guys hanging around the front door of the shelter, seemingly purposeless. Growing up in a world of goal-driven people, they found this lack of focus startling. If it also made them more averse to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes because they saw where those bad habits could take other people — that’s a definite by-product.

We’ll be visiting a veterans shelter soon. I know they’ll learn a lot there, too — about dignity and respect and giving back.

And we’ll be doing it together.

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