As we approach break, my wife and I talked about what we were going to do with the children this summer. We talked about camps, vacation, the pool, etc. As we discussed, a common thread came up multiple times; we need to keep them off screens. One article I read stated that the average teenager spends between 8 and 9 hours on a screen per day. This takes into account television, computers, and phones. The more I thought about it, I realized how true it is.
So, what are our boys going to do when it gets hot outside?
I thought about what we did as children before the internet and the world at our fingertips. I realized that our kids could do the same thing, it would just take a little creativity. When I was younger, the bike was the main mode of transportation. I rode over a mile to get to a friend’s house in the neighborhood.
Then when I got there, we would do something that sounds crazy today, we would play.
What would we play? We built forts out of sticks outside or put up tents inside using sheets and chairs. We took out board games or play indoor sports like ping pong; on the kitchen table if we had to. I even remember making a putt-putt course through our house and then I invited my friends over to play for .25 cents.
It wasn’t great, but we had a blast.
I remember going over to a neighbor’s house who was having a sleepover with a girl that I liked. I went over to play, and it turned into us chasing each other around the house, playing hide and seek and then sitting down for freeze pops.
Of course, I had chores to do as well.
I had to mow the grass, take out the trash, clean my room and help where it was needed. I fussed about it, but I knew that if I wanted to play, the chores needed to be done.
This was summer for me.
Today, it’s different for kids.
If they want to go somewhere, they ask their parents to drive them because it’s quicker and safer. If they want to build a fort, they get on a cell phone and build villages and towns and make their own people. If they want to play golf, they turn on the TV and swing the remote. When they want to see someone they like, they jump on a phone and within seconds, they are face-to-face.
So yes, they are playing the same things, like we used to, but they don’t even need to break a sweat.
As a dad, I feel like it is my job to introduce them to the outside.
Telling them to put on ‘play clothes’ and ‘go get dirty.’ Fortunately, my boys are like this. If they can be outside playing, they will be outside. If they can be in the water, they will be wet. And yes, if they want to play, they must get their chores done.
But when they are inside, I want to make sure that they are not on the screen all the time. I want them to do what we did growing up. I want them to build, hide and play. I want them to have the same memories that I had in a completely different setting.
To do this, I must take the screens away and limit how long they can be on them.
Yes, they are going to fuss, just like we did when we had to do things we didn’t want to do, but we got over it and so will they. My wife and I must make sure that they do their chores. We have to make sure that they have things to do. Most importantly, we need to set the example for our children and not have our faces glued to our computers, get outside, put on our play clothes and get a little dirty.
After all, our children are not going to remember what videos they watched over the summer or what game they beat. However, they will remember the time you spent with them, going on vacation, and how much fun it was to play together. So, let’s put down our phones, close our computers, get away from the TV and show our kids that we can have fun without the screen. Because if we can do it, they can too. Bring on summer!
Chris Beach is the Executive Director of the Relationship Foundation of Virginia. He lives in Henrico County with his wife and four boys. He is a life-long Richmonder and loves to help couples strengthen their relationships, encourage dads to be active in the lives of their children, and teach youth about the fears and joys of healthy relationships. For more information about the Relationship Foundation of VA, go to www.rfva.org.