Who Needs Technology? Four Ideas for Screen-Free Family Fun

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D., author of Ollie Outside: Screen-Free Fun

Who Needs Technology? Four Ideas for Screen-Free Family FunTechnology is ubiquitous; computers, tablets, gaming systems, smartphones—wherever we are or go these days, it seems that some sort of screen is right there with us. And while there are plenty of advantages to having technology be so accessible, overuse can become problematic for many. More specifically, research has shown that children and teens who spend too much time using technology experience higher rates of learning problems, behavioral problems, emotional problems, social problems, ADHD, and obesity.

If your spring break is coming up, now is an excellent time to consider the ways in which you want your kids or teens to have more balance in their lives with technology. But convincing your children to turn off their screens and put down their devices to engage more as a family can be a hard sell, especially if your children currently overindulge in technology.

Limit Tech Time for a Limited Time
You could take a firm and direct stance as a parent with ironclad rules about technology, but then you run the risk of arguing or fighting over screen time with your children.

A better approach to limiting screens is to let kids know they can enjoy their technology, but only at certain times (for example, when they are at home) over break. (You can do this for any period of time, even if your break has passed.) But also let kids know that you expect them to have a balanced and fun week and to do a variety of activities outside of the home. I call this the indirect approach to screen-time management: If your child or teen is active and having fun outside the home, their access to, and preoccupation with, technology should diminish.

4 Tips to Manage Tech Time
As parents, it’s important to understand exactly how technology works when it becomes too present in your child’s life. First and foremost, technology is pleasurable, and that’s because its use creates surges of dopamine—a brain chemical that, when released, provides pleasure. Thus, one of the main reasons your children return to their screens over and over again is the dopamine surge and associated pleasure; from quickly checking a text to playing a video game for hours, it’s all about stimulus seeking and the subsequent pleasure that’s derived from the activity. Thus, screen time can accurately be viewed as a form of self-medication.

So, here are four tips to help you better manage your children’s technology use so they (and you) can enjoy more screen-free family fun this spring break—and beyond!

  1. Get Amish. As a child psychologist, I often recommend a screen-free evening once a week to families when preoccupation with technology has become a problem. I’ve termed this night “Amish Night” since the Amish typically do not use technology in their daily lives. Cooking dinner, playing board games, doing arts and crafts, going to the gym, baking cookies, going on a treasure hunt, putting together a puzzle, playing hide-and-seek, going to the library, or doing some spring organizing or cleaning together are a few screen-free family fun ideas to consider.
  2. Get physical. Research has shown that physical activity improves academic performance—including both higher grades and better standardized test performance. While each family has unique interests, there are a number of fun, screen-free, physically oriented things you can do together: go on a nature hike or a family bike ride, garden, go bowling, go camping, join a gym, and so on. Make a point of doing something physical together on a regular basis, perhaps as a standing date once a week.
  3. Get engaged. Whether you live in an urban setting, a rural one, or someplace in between, teaching your children about their community and getting them involved is a great way to have some screen-free fun together as a family. The chamber of commerce in your area likely has plenty of information about your area’s culture and history. Visiting the local humane society to learn about animals might be fun for some. Or visit local shops or bookstores. Attending a local musical performance, event, or play is also a great family outing. I live in Virginia, and my family has made learning about the area’s Civil War battles and history and visiting the museums in nearby Washington, D.C., a big part of our screen-free time together.
  4. Get altruistic. Numerous research studies have found that oxytocin—a natural brain chemical that is released when we engage in positive social interactions—occurs at higher levels when we are empathic and generous with others. That warm and fuzzy feeling you get from doing good in the world and helping others is literally a chemical reaction. Visit a retirement home with your children and read books to the residents, gather old clothes and toys together to donate, or commit to volunteer once a week or once a month. These are just a few ideas to consider for your screen-free family fun moments.

And if you are planning to go away as a family for spring break, I recommend leaving as much technology behind as you can so you can fully be in the moment. Of course, you’ll likely need your smartphones as adults, but do your children really need to be on their phones or devices on a family vacation?

By implementing the above tips as a family—and with some time and practice—your children’s screen and media time management should improve. You also get to truly enjoy the time you spend together without technology. Remember, technology should be a positive thing for children and teens, and when used in moderation and appropriately, it can complement and enhance their lives. But there also are plenty of moments when it’s good to disconnect from screens and instead connect with loved ones.

Author Michael OberschneiderMichael Oberschneider, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services, a private mental-health practice located in Northern Virginia. He has been featured as a mental-health expert on CNN, Good Morning America, and other popular media outlets, and he has written articles for several news agencies, including The Washington Post. Dr. Oberschneider has also received Washingtonian Magazine’s “Top Therapist” honor for his work with children and adolescents. He lives in Leesburg, Virginia, with his wife Liz and two children, Ava and Otto.

Ollie Outside: Screen-Free FunMichael Oberschneider is the author of Ollie Outside: Screen-Free Fun.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Comment or Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s