When I was a kid, my summers were spent doing retro things like hanging out at the roller-skating rink, producing and starring in elaborate front porch musicals, and solving the world’s problems – or at least the middle school ones – on walks to the corner convenience store with my friends to load up on Laffy Taffy and Mr. Pibb.
Did I also stare at screens for hours on end like I may or may not complain my kids do today? As much as I’d like to think otherwise, yes. Sure, my screens may have been tuned to MTV instead of Netflix, and ColecoVision instead of The Sims, but there’s no denying that the allure of the magical blue glow isn’t a Generation Z phenomenon.
However, what we (thankfully) did not have back in the 80s were the temptations and dangers of the internet and social media, and the unlimited time suck of binge watching anything and everything commercial free: things that lure our kids (and yes, admittedly, even us) as easily as that evil and terrifying child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (Have I dated myself sufficiently yet?)
Something that’s equally as frightening? The addiction to screens is proven to be as detrimental to our kids as we’ve been telling them it is all along. According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, a study has shown that “extended periods of social messaging, web surfing and TV/movie watching increased insomnia symptoms and decreased sleep duration, which led to an increase in symptoms of depression” among teens, which is not something to take lightly.
Is this study shocking? Not at all. Alarming? You bet. Especially now that summer is here and all those hours our teens spent studying — on screens, ironically — are now free for different kinds of screengrabs. Maybe you’ve been a proactive parent who’s already set limits on screen time, or maybe you’re the one who valiantly gave that a try but gave up and recently joined your teen daughter on a binge of all 81 episodes of Jane The Virgin (cough, cough), but wherever you stand on the very real issue of screen addiction, I think we can all agree that offering our teens alternatives is a smart idea, and summer is the perfect opportunity to think outside the box and give some new ideas a try.
Here’s a list of 10 screen-free activities to get even the most baked couch potato up, out the door, and even moving this summer. Sure, they may seem obvious, but I bet if you try to do just one of them without posting photos online, it makes each of them a bona fide challenge.
10 Fun Things to Do With Your Teen This Summer
Big names in big venues or local artists playing in local parks, taking in live music together is always memory making. Especially when you sing along, loudly.
2. Entering a race and training together
From 5Ks to mud runs to walking for a local pet shelter, most cities have multiple opportunities to get out and get moving for a good cause, or simply for fun. Training together for the big event is also quality time, not to mention all the hours your teen will be fetching ice packs and heating pads for you.
Marathon Kids is a terrific organization with the mission to get kids moving. This summer they have a “Walk and Talk Challenge,” a program designed to build communication while logging 26 miles together over the course of the summer. When you register, you’ll even receive conversation topics to make things easier. (I wonder if “why can’t I run a mile anymore without feeling like vomiting” is one of them?) Visit marathonkids.org for more information.
Yes, brunch, because who doesn’t love brunch? Use this summer as a great excuse to test out your city’s best brunch spots (I promise you there’s a list). And bonus! If you’ve been training for a run or signed up for a marathon of walking and talking, all the calories in French toast do not exist for you.
5. Sporting events
Whether it be your city’s big league team or taking in a local T-Ball game (adorable!), sharing your teen’s excitement for a sport — whether you like the game or not — is something that is memorable, especially if you learn not to yell when the wrong team scores. Plus, nachos.
6. Cooking classes
My neighbor and her teenage daughter just took a French cooking class at a local cookware store, and it looked awesome (and yes, the ironic fact that I only know this because I saw the photos on Instagram isn’t lost on me). If your teen loves to cook –or just eat – finding an evening or weekend class is a great way to spend time together, and will eliminate their excuse not to cook meals for you in the future.
7. Hit the trail
Even if you live in a metropolitan city, I’m betting there’s more than a few hiking or biking trails in the vicinity that you could — and should — take advantage of with your teen. I’m fortunate to live in Minneapolis (something I never, ever say from November to April, by the way) where we have more trails and lakes than are possible to count (“Land of 10,000 Lakes” is actually a lie – there are actually more but no one can count that high).
Last weekend my grown girls and I went to a nature center we hadn’t visited since they were little and spent a couple of hours hiking the trails … before getting chased out by mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds.
8. Museums and zoos
Remember when you chaperoned the third grade field trips to the local history museum and counted the minutes until you could be back on that stifling school bus again? Remember being in charge of twelve kindergartners at the zoo and contemplating letting them play with the monkeys? Guess what? Revisiting those places with your grown up kids is actually fun! You have time to wander, time to learn about things, and best of all, don’t have to take anyone to the bathroom.
9. Drop in a dance class
Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. I’m not actually suggesting you crash a studio class full of teenagers, but if your kid likes to move and groove (and has an open mind and a willingness to be goofy with you), see if your city has a studio with multi-aged drop-in classes. I was surprised to discover ours does, and for only about $12 a class you can participate in weekly beginning tap, jazz, ballet, and hip hop classes, with no commitment. *Buys new tap shoes and sassy leotard.
10. Game nights
Original idea? No, but always a good one, especially now when there are so many choices of fun party games out there. Sure, some of the best and most hysterical ones (Cards Against Humanity, What Do You Meme) can be more that a bit inappropriate (and believe me, we’ve definitely gone through and removed a large handful of the most cringe-worthy cards, not so much because they’d be shocking to our grown kids but because I don’t want to know that they aren’t), but there are other fun, clean options other than Scrabble and that take far less time than Monopoly. Some of our favorite games to play as a family other than the ones that have cards that make you blush … or hide:
Between jobs and other responsibilities, you or your teen might have, it’s true that carving out real time to connect can be tough. But whatever you have time to do with your teens to help wean them off their screens, and however you choose to go about doing it, remember that it’s worth it. Even if it’s just a simple walk to the corner convenience store together for some Laffy Taffy.