10 things to do as a family without screens

Convincing kids to give up their screen time is hard, here are some practical ideas.

Devices are part of everyday life – they are everywhere, from the phone in your pocket to the computer on your desk and the TV in your lounge room. These days, we need to actively make the effort to spend time OFF our devices.

Pediatrician Dr. Michael Rich says digital media is a big distraction, with 50% of kids and 75% of parents expressing the opinion that their companions are distracted by screens during conversations (Harvard Medical School, 2019). If everyone is glued to a screen, how can you truly engage with each other? Too much screen time is detrimental to an individual’s health and wellbeing, more so for children and teenagers (Caroli, Argentieri, Cardone, & Masi, 2004; Laurson, Lee, Gentile, Walsh, & Eisenmann, 2014).

It is recommended that older kids and teenagers should spend no more than 2 hours using screens daily (including homework), with the amount of screen time reducing fairly drastically with a reduction in age (Australian Department of Health, 2014). So, what can you do instead?

Alternatives to screen activities

Dr. Rich specifically recommends sitting down together as a family without screens (check out our suggestions for dinner time conversation starters). It’s important to take time to speak with your loved ones, without distractions, and nourish that sense of family connection. If screens (or other challenges) have created a disconnect within your family unit, then it is an even more relevant suggestion. Being present with those around you is a completely different interpersonal experience than the disjointed conversations that occur when every chime from your phone draws your attention away from the present moment.

Spending time with your children, engaged in specific activities, creates a feeling of togetherness that is irreplaceable (and unachievable when dictated by a screen). Although it is entirely possible to have fun as a family watching a movie or playing an online game, this shouldn’t be the only type of activity you engage in. Ask your children what they would like to do as a family that doesn’t involve screens. Chances are they have a list of things they don’t usually remember they enjoy, because screen time is a default (because it’s easy and addictive!).

Spending time as a family

Hopefully, between you and your children, you can come up with some fabulous, fun activities to enjoy together.

Here are our 10 favourite things to do as a family that don’t involve screens:

  1. Boardgames: Depending on the game, you could be engaging in role playing, strategy, teamwork, deductive reasoning… There are so many possibilities for family fun!
  2. Baking cookies: Creating something from scratch is always rewarding. Cookies are a simple thing to bake collaboratively, from the mixing to the decorating. Best of all, they are also easy to share!
  3. Bike riding: Why not head outdoors and go for a bike ride with your family? It could be just around the block or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, look for a park with a bike track or an appropriate trail.
  4. Gardening: There’s no reason the activity you choose has to be purely fun. If you get some work done around the house while enjoying your family’s company, so much the better! Gardening is a great group activity – everyone can be assigned their own tasks, individually or in small groups, depending on how large your family is – which also offers therapeutic value and opportunities for learning and contributing to family meals.
  5. Have a picnic: You don’t even have to go anywhere. Set up a blanket in your backyard and enjoy your family’s company while you much on homemade sandwiches and hand-squeezed orange juice!
  6. Karaoke: Singing karaoke is so easy these days with YouTube offering an abundance of instrumental tracks with words for singing along. But, since we’re ditching screens for this list, you can go old school and pop in a CD to croon to! If you (or your kids) aren’t a fan of singing, you can always just groove to the tune and enjoy just letting loose with some silly moves!
  7. Go camping: You can go all out and plan a camping trip to somewhere fabulous, or just put up your tent in the backyard. If you’re in a fairly dark location, you can also do a little stargazing!
  8. DIY pizza night: Make family dinner a fun occasion by preparing some pizza bases that you and your kids can add toppings to for a delicious DIY dinner!
  9. Do a puzzle: Puzzles can be challenging and encourage using observation and deductive skills, as well as teamwork when done as a family. For a challenge, grab a 1000-piece floor puzzle to give everyone room to join in.
  10. Charades: Acting out scenes like a goofball shows your kids that you aren’t afraid to have fun and that you trust and enjoy their company. It can boost their confidence to know you don’t mind looking silly in front of them and can help shed some of those “OMG you’re so embarrassing” layers!

There are so many more activities we could suggest, but we think this is a good mix. Spend a little time indoors and a little time outdoors (and if your kids need some more outdoor time, check out our list of outdoor activities for teens and tweens) to find an even balance of sedentary and active engagement with your kids!

Stephanie Kakris

Stephanie Kakris

Stephanie Kakris has a Masters in Psychology and is a published parenting author. She is the co-founder of ScreenCoach, a combined hardware and software platform where kids are allocated a set amount of screen time, and after their time is up, they need to go and complete activities such as exercise, chores or non-screen play to earn more time before they can resume.
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