As schools, parks, and other physical spaces continue to be shut down or heavily restricted, most kids in the country are still stuck at home. One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like there’s not much else to do but rotate between devices: Phone to laptop to gaming console and back. Understandably, parents are anxious about how much time their children are spending online. Is it healthy? Is it safe? Is it leading to depression? Firm rules and restrictions like the kind that Gryphon routers provide can help curb children’s Internet usage—but doing so brings up other problems.
The biggest of these is that often, parents simply block their children’s time online without providing them meaningful alternatives to the breadth of entertainment and interaction that the Internet can supply. The solution? Make your child’s physical spaces more attractive than their virtual ones! Give them opportunities to be creative, physical, social, or all three.
You might have to be more involved than you think in helping your kids discover their offline interests. Remember that video games and social media rely on their attention, and they’ve been manipulated into giving it. A lifetime of screens has dulled their instinct for creating their own fun. Take time to help them hone those instincts, so that they can transition into entertaining themselves without resentment or withdrawal. If you’re not sure where you’ll find the time for this, you could set limits on the social media apps on your phone, or even try setting up restrictions for yourself with Gryphon to free up a few extra minutes a day.
Continue to let your children have some time online throughout the week. As important as physical hobbies are, they still need a place where they can talk with their friends without risking their health. Even the most self-sufficient child will suffer when isolated from their peers for over a year. Plus, certain online activities and games can be just as mentally engaging as those in “real life”—we’ll put out a list of these soon!
For now, however, here are a few creative alternatives to screen time.
1. Journaling & Scrapbooking
Despite the name, social media isn’t appealing just for its social aspect. Apps like Facebook and Instagram are excellent spaces for recording daily life and reminiscing on our favorite moments. Humans are naturally compelled to create records of their existence (the earliest known diary dates back to around 2500 B.C.E.!) and children are no exception. Try giving your child a lined or blank notebook where they can write or draw about their day. They might also enjoy scrapbooking as a more public way to document their lives, and as a vehicle for their favorite photos. This will give them an outlet for recording their experiences without subjecting them to the pressure and anxiety that often accompanies posting on social media.
Teaching your children to cook—or at least letting them help with the prep work—is practical, fun, and healthy. It takes up time, mitigating boredom, and it’s always rewarding to eat a meal you worked hard to make! Since most parents do a good amount of cooking throughout the week anyway, this is also an activity you can do as a family without having to carve out extra time in your week. Some kids might prefer the precise nature of baking, some might prefer the space for experimentalism at the stove, and some might fall in love with both. See what works for them, and be patient if they miss a step or get frustrated at a failed attempt. Anyone can cook—all it takes is time and a little encouragement. Teach them some basics, like eggs, pasta, and fried rice, and then help them out with their favorite recipes. They can graduate to more complicated dishes with time, and who knows? Maybe they’ll even start out-cooking you.
Cookbooks can be great to have around the house, but every recipe imaginable is just a quick Google away. You can also browse sites like Bon Appétit or Delish if you’re looking for inspiration. Tip: Print out the recipe so that you can keep your devices out of the kitchen!
3. Nature Walks
When the weather allows, nature walks or hikes are a wonderful way to keep kids busy and get them outside. Even the most well-trodden paths are more interesting when there’s new information available, so suggest researching local animals, plants, and trees, and help them identify those things with them during their walk. Walks are a great time for family bonding, and benefit parents as well as kids by improving circulation, lowering risk of heart disease, and increasing Vitamin D intake. This means that your whole household will be more energetic, less fatigued, and less likely to experience the muscle and joint pains that so often accompany a screen-locked, sedentary lifestyle.
4. Skating or Cycling
Since the pandemic began and made team sports impossible, the number of people buying bikes, skateboards, and other sets of wheels has dramatically increased—and there’s a reason for that! These activities are physically challenging, super fun, and they look impressive. Children can start using skateboards and roller skates as young as five, bikes at three or four, and scooters at two—just make sure they’re properly equipped with a well-fitting helmet and joint pads. Even cautious or clumsy kids can become proficient on their wheels within a few days or weeks, depending on how often they’re able to practice. This one can be a little time-consuming if you have young children, but older kids and those with more experience need little to no supervision as long as they’re properly protected and understand the rules of the road.
5. Arts & Crafts
This is a very broad suggestion, and could cover anything from coloring books to LEGOs to macramé. That’s because there’s an infinite number of things to create and an infinite number of ways to create them! You may or may not consider your child “artistic,” but the truth is that all humans are creatively inclined. Give your kids opportunities to draw, sculpt, build, fold, knit, cut, paste, carve, sew, stamp, crochet—they’re bound to find something they enjoy. Some kids particularly love making things they can use or wear: Bracelets, earrings, storage boxes, coasters. Some like making things they can display: Calligraphy, embroidery, paintings. They can even make their own dolls and toys. Whatever they choose, help them focus on the fun of the activity rather than their skills. And if it’s a messy craft, give them a space where they can get messy! They can always clean up afterward.
It’s every parent’s dream to peek into their kid’s bedroom and see them reading a book instead of scrolling through their phone. But as we mentioned earlier, kids’ attention spans are shorter than ever, so don’t feel bad if you don’t currently have a little bookworm in your home. This doesn’t mean you can’t have one—kids today actually spend a lot of time reading already; they’re just usually absorbing memes and listicles rather than novels.
Here’s a really easy trick to get your child to read those books instead: Let them pick. Don’t push your favorite books from childhood, and don’t judge their choices! This can make them resistant to reading before they’ve even started.
Instead, let your kid into a library or bookstore (whether online or masked at a brick-and-mortar), and allow them to pick up any age-appropriate book. And yes, this includes graphic novels and comic books. No need to worry about whether these count as literature—comic books have more rare words per every 1000 words than books written for adults. Plus, as Dr. Laura Jiménez of Boston University suggests, the medium of comics can “provide an entry point for struggling readers, challenge gifted readers, and help more students learn.” Other children retain information best aurally and will prefer to be read to; you can read to them yourself, or provide them with an audiobook.
Paperbacks and hardcovers make disconnecting easier, but most libraries aren’t open right now and books can be expensive, so if you’re worried about cost, check online to see if your local library has a lending app like Libby or Overdrive. You can then download the book or audiobook to a device and use your Gryphon router to block that device from using the WiFi, ensuring your child stays offline. Otherwise, check out thriftbooks.com for cheap used books.
Some kids will become very invested in a one particular hobby very quickly. Others prefer to jump from activity to activity throughout the day. Again, figure out what works for them. Focus on their interests and help them explore and refine their own ideas for what their days should look like. This will make their devices that much less tempting.
Revel in their accomplishments, but make sure they know their hobbies are less about “getting good” and more about having fun, being creative, and staying healthy. If your child is having a difficult time being away from their devices, try decreasing their screen time week by week instead of taking most of it away at once. The more time they spend offline, the easier it will be to stay offline.
And there are, of course, many activities that extend beyond this list. Pay attention to your child’s interests and encourage them in that direction, or do some more research and offer them other suggestions.
The most important thing is to make sure that as you use Gryphon to help your kids disconnect, there’s something else around for them to connect to. This way, with time, they’ll be happier, more present, and more energetic than they were when they were battling their boredom with the Internet alone.