It’s no secret that kids these days spend a fairly large chunk of their time using screens.
Some of that time may be as a result of schooling requirements (many schools offer online student hubs or require online homework submission), and some of it will inevitably be recreational (watching television, playing games, or socialising). Research conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (2016) shows that most Australian children are spending more than the recommended limit of 2 hours daily using screens for their entertainment, particularly between the ages of 12 and 13.
Screen time and health concerns
Associate Professor Ben Edwards, manager of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children recommends offering children the option to participate in physical activities that align with their interests to reduce the amount of time they spend on screens. This is a handy way of implementing limits around children’s screen usage, without coming across simply as a strict parent. Usage of devices can be correlated with increasing statistics in obesity among children, as well as other health problems, as reported by an Australian Child Health Poll conducted by The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Given this trend, it’s a good idea to get our kids outside and engaged in activities that stimulate them in other ways.
Outdoor alternatives to screen time
But, when your kids are spending hours glued to their screens watching Stranger Things or building virtual creations on Minecraft, what can you suggest instead? The key thing to consider is what they will enjoy. Think about what their interests are – what they are using their screens for – and offer opportunities to do things outdoors that relate to those interests.
Here are our top ten suggestions for activities tweens and teens can do outdoors:
- Riding a bike: Aside from the fact that bike riding is actual exercise, there’s just something freeing about gliding down a slope with the wind in your face. Letting your child choose a cool bike or new helmet may sweeten the deal.
- Nature trail/bushwalking: Walking uses all the muscles in your body in an entirely different way to cycling or other forms of exercise. If a regular walk around the block doesn’t appeal to your kids, take them on a bushwalk along a nature trail and take turns spotting tree/plant species or wildlife.
- Bird or bug watching: If your child is interested in animals, arming them with a magnifying glass or a pair of binoculars will have them spending hours studying insects or birds out in nature.
- Astronomy: Star gazing is perhaps one of the most calming outdoor activities. Basic telescopes aren’t very expensive and are powerful enough to view details on the moon or very bright stars or planets. This activity is best done in areas with minimal light pollution, so you can see more (whether with a telescope or the naked eye).
- Ball games: Whether it’s soccer, rugby, volleyball, or even dodgeball, outdoor ball games are a great combination or exercise, fun, and teamwork.
- Gardening: It may sound dull but working with dirt and plants is nourishing for the soul. Show your kids how to plant seeds and grow vegetables that can later form part of family meals.
- Going to the beach: Surfing, swimming, sandcastle building, shell seeking, fishing… There are just so many possibilities for stimulation and activity.
- Paintball: A great option for teens, especially, which provides opportunities for teamwork, physical activity, and friendly competition. If it’s raining, laser tag is a good indoor alternative.
- Fruit picking: Visit your local farm (or take a road trip!) and go fruit picking with your kids. It’s a fun activity you can do together, that involves walking and conversation, as well as providing them with an opportunity to contribute to family meals.
- Outdoor chores: Yes, chores. Kids will learn a sense of responsibility and get some exercise and fresh air when engaging in activities such as mowing the lawn, walking the dog, weeding the garden, or washing the car.
There are so many more possibilities, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And remember to get them on board by appealing to their natural interests and asking them what they’d like to do!