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Somewhat Successful Ways to Get Kids and Tweens off of Screens

Part of my reason for writing my upper middle-grade novel Future Me was to touch on the relationship between kids and technology and how complicated it is. While writing about time travel and video games and robots and cool gadgets.

Because, you know, it’s a story for kids, not an article for a scientific journal or an op-ed.

That being said, as the parent of an 8-year-old and an almost 11-year-old, we’ve definitely had our battles over screen time.

Now, you can find a lot of advice on the internet about how to get your kids away from screens. And I mean lots of advice.

The problem that I have with advice like “be a good example” or “find a new hobby” isn’t that it’s bad. It’s true and totally valid.

But it’s also a little like fitness advice that tells you to set a schedule and stick to it. Or to just get out there and do something.

It’s easier said that done.

So. With that in mind, here are things that we’ve done in our family to varying levels of success.

Buy a Device

Wait, what? I thought we were trying to get away from devices?!

Ideally, yes. But my wife and I decided that, rather than setting time limits and making ourselves the bad guys every single time, cajoling or yelling at the kids to get off their screens, why not get something that simply turns off the internet after a preset amount of time.

Yes, that’s right, such things exist. We use one called Circle. It lets you set daily limits, block certain kinds of content, and connect specific devices to individual family members.

How has it worked? Sometimes well, sometimes not so well. For some reason, Circle seems to need to be reset every once in a while or it starts to lose track of particular devices. You’ll discover this one day when you realize that your son, who is supposed to have a 2-hour daily limit, has been watching YouTube since 6am and it is now lunchtime. Not that this has ever happened to us….

Additionally, while Circle can cut off the internet, it does not kick your kids off of their screens. That being said, we found that our kids going from online games or YouTube to coding things in Scratch because they could still do it offline was far preferable.

Get in the Car

Want to get your kids off screens? Go somewhere! And don’t take the screens with you!

If we’re really lucky, we can make this turn into a hike or some other free endeavor, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that many of these expeditions end up costing us money. Often, we find ourselves shopping or at a restaurant — feeling good that we got the kids off screens, but bad at how much the day has impacted our bank account.

Do Something You All Love

Does this sound vague? Well, it kind of has to be. Because it will depend on you and your children.

For us, swimming is almost always a winner. Not so much from November to May, but for the rest of the year it’s a solid choice. (The benefit of living in Central Texas — expanded swimming weather.)

Enlist Their Help in Creating a List of “Fun Stuff to Do”

This one has varying mileage. Often, we’ll have one kid be into it while the other isn’t, or they’ll pick things that only they’re interested in, causing friction.


A plan is a plan, and doing this has actually helped us discover things our kids are interested in that we never realized.

Of course, the next step involves planning it out and then getting them to actually do it when the time arrives, which can also be hit-or-miss.

Band Together with Other Families

Things are almost always better with friends, right?

From going to the pool to walking around the neighborhood to just hanging out, everything is more fun when your kid has a buddy to play with.

This is something we really need to get better at, but when it comes together it’s amazing.

Reading (and Podcasts)

We try to get our kids to read, we really do. Both of us were obsessive readers as children and we grew up to be writers, so every time they get excited about a book it’s like we’ve won something.

But we also realize that forcing books on them is not the way to go.

Our alternative: podcasts and audiobooks. For whatever reason, our kids love podcasts and, to a lesser degree, audiobooks. They’ve even discovered shows and books that they’ve recommended to us.

And time spent listening is far better than time spent staring at a screen. We’ll take that trade anyday.

(Plus, they’re great to play in the background when trying to get them to do chores!)

Get a Million Board Games

We’re what you might call “board game people.” More my wife than the rest of us, but we all enjoy a good board game — even if our oldest whines and moans until he gets into it.

If you’re thinking, “But board games are boring!” I can pretty much guarantee you haven’t spent enough time looking around. I promise you they have evolved from the days of Monopoly (which is still amazing), and you can find something that fits your sense of fun.

Do board games really work to get our kids off screens? Sometimes. We like to regularly have days where we play several board games and crown a winner.

Obviously, a competition creates its own issues, but sometimes you have to play the game of lesser evils… which is a good name for a board game.

So there you have it. Totally not surefire ways to get your kids off of their screens.

How do you do it?

(No, really, we’d like to know.)


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