For many parents, getting their kids to unplug and put their phones away for even one night can be a challenge. When your kids are in middle and high school, it can feel like you’re competing with social media and the television to get your child’s attention. However, when parents build a tech-free family night into their family’s schedule it can have a positive impact on everyone. So, we asked 7 experts to share their best tips for having a tech-free family night. Keep reading for some unique ideas you can use with your family.
1. Keep a basket of books on the dinner table
Janice Robinson-Celeste, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia & Successful Black Parenting Magazine
Our toddler was really hooked on watching our iPad during dinner. One of the things we introduced for a tech-free night was having a basket of books on the table. So, toddlers can choose a story to read right after everyone finishes eating. You’ll begin to notice that kids actually looks forward to different people, round-robin style, reading them a story. This can also help older teens because they can read to their younger siblings, which helps their reading skills and comprehension.
2. Find a positive offline activity that your teen would be proud to share on social media later
Josh Ochs, SmartSocial.com
Older students in middle or high school can be more challenging to get off of their screens than younger kids. In my experience, older students will get excited about an offline activity if it will help them create content to share on social media later. Help your children find 2-3 passions they want to be known for, then pick 1 of those activities to do together as a family each week.
Whether your child wants to volunteer at a local charity, help build or fix something around the house, practice an instrument, or play sports, schedule a tech-free family night where you spend time doing an activity they love. Encourage your children to keep a journal where they write down their experiences, what obstacles they overcame, and what they learned. These journal entries can then easily be repurposed into an Instagram caption or a blog post on their personal website. Not only does this get your children excited about unplugging each week, but it also gives them valuable experience to add to their student resume.
3. Plan your first family night in a location where cell service is limited or obsolete
Lauren Tingley, Simply Well Balanced
Competing with technology when it comes to your kids can be a challenge. It’s almost like their phones, video games, and social media have a magnet inside that draws them in and magically forces them to tune out the rest of the world.
As a busy working mom, I have been intentional and proactive about scheduling tech-free family time together. In fact, it’s become a weekly family tradition in our home that everyone looks forward to.
Here are a few tips to get your kids onboard with regular tech-free family nights:
- If your kids are young – start now! Younger children often crave attention from their parents and it’s obvious that we give more of our attention when our phones are away. Hopefully, at this point they have not developed a tech or social media addiction and simply offering your attention and a fun activity will be enough to encourage their participation. Bowling and mini-golf are two of our favorites. If you establish a regular family night when they are young, it will just be a regular part of your family life.
- If your children are older you may have a bit more of a struggle. If this is the case, I suggest you get sneaky. Plan your first few family nights in a location where cell service is limited or completely obsolete. For example, take an evening drive to the mountains to watch the sunset. Pack a picnic dinner and eat under the stars before driving home.
- Establishing it as a regular part of your weekly or monthly family routine is essential. In our home we focus on simple traditions to do together to create memories and stronger bonds as a family.
- Use your family night as an opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect to your community. As a family, choose a particular cause that you would like to support and spend your time together volunteering. Whether you decide to serve a meal in a soup kitchen or walk the dogs at a shelter, staying busy will help to prevent technology from being a distraction.
- Seek out special after dark activities at your local national parks, zoos and museums. I live in a very small town, but we still have access to these events such as sunset kayaking on the lake, a ranger led moonlit hike in the forest, and an overnight stay in the zoo. Many of these activities are offered for free or a very low price.
Although it may help in the beginning, the activities do not have to be extravagant or expensive. Ultimately, what children want most is to spend time together. If it doesn’t currently feel that way in your home, perhaps it’s just that it’s been missing for a while.
4. Plan a “restaurant night” that empowers kids to get involved
Jill Krefft, Organizational Toast
We plan what we call “Restaurant Night”. The kids help choose the menu, participate in cooking the meal, and set the dining room table with fancy table settings including handmade place cards, centerpieces, and menus. They then take the parent’s orders and serve the meals! They get so excited about being involved in each part of the process. Finish off with an extra special dessert and board games. It’s hours of fun!
5. Cultivate a love of spending time outside
Carly Brasseux, Carly Brasseux Consulting
As a wife, business owner, and mom of two young and rowdy kids, we really try to focus on spending our time outdoors. It’s hard to have a tablet or iPhone while you’re enjoying the great outdoors. Now, don’t get me wrong; our kids spend plenty of time indoors watching TV, but we like to try and be mindful of cultivating a love of being outside.
Try going arrowhead hunting at a park. The first one to find a rock shaped like a triangle gets the first choice of popsicle flavor or whatever small prize will encourage your kids. You can also do a backyard scavenger hunt. We’ll hide outdoor knick knacks like sticks and special leaves in our flower pots or on their swing set to find. This will keep the kiddos entertained for a good 30 minutes. And in kid time, that’s an eternity.
6. The key to making your kids want to go tech-free is to make it a tradition
Brenda Kosciuk, Paper Heart Family
We frequently have family-focused, tech-free family night. I think the key to making your kids want to go tech-free is to make it a tradition. Have a weekly family night where you get together (no matter what) and really focus on having fun together. At first, the kids will probably be slow to warm up to the idea. But after a few weeks, it might just become something that they look forward to.
We like to have game night, and we try to incorporate some fun, unique games into our family night. We have two current favorites. The first is playing hide-and-seek in the dark with flashlights. We make it extra fun by placing distractions around the house (putting a chair behind a curtain, a blanket over a bunch of pillows, etc).
The other is ask each other questions. For example: Who is the funniest person in the family? Who is the most serious? Who is the most likely to become president? Then we all vote on who we think fits that description. It’s fun to see what each of us thinks about each other.
7. Challenge your kids to make a board game based on their favorite book or TV show
Jim Wasserman, Author
For my own children, we always kept poster board and markers on hand. We would challenge our children to make a game board based on a book or TV show they liked, or the activity we did that day. We as a family would then play the game. We kept a box of old board game parts for them to use.
Most of the evening was them making the game, but we always had fun playing it (of course, we’d hit unforeseen snags and then group solve what the rule should be). It was family bonding and creative problem-solving. One of my kids went on to win competitions in game design and has since graduated with dual degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, is a software developer, and partially credits the game-making to finding his passion.
When parents schedule a tech-free family night it can be easier to get young kids involved and more challenging to get older kids excited. However, there are many ways for parents to get kids of any age excited about spending time away from their screens. When parents follow the steps above they can have successful tech-free family nights.
How does your family unplug? What are some fun family night ideas? Let us know in the comments below!