It’s a warm Fall evening. I am out walking our large golden lab, TJ, through our neighborhood and I feel something is missing. There are sounds I wonder why I never hear, or sights I do not see, day after day, that I remember from my own childhood. Occasionally I spot a few neighbors walking their dogs, but I only see two kids along my path riding their bikes. I do not see kids out in front of their houses or hear the sound of games and laughter. It is quiet.

Where did the kids go? What happened to the days of kids playing outside from morning until dusk? What happened to kids playing kick ball down the street, or a game of hide and seek? What happened to popsicles on the porch after a busy day, when the kids came in smelling like freshly cut grass with sweat beads pooling around their neck. Where did the kids go? They stayed inside to play their xboxes or ipads, to watch tv or bing on the newest netflix episodes. Why? ” Its too hot,” I hear. “There is nothing to do.” “I’d rather play my tablet.”

What has happened? What have we allowed to happen to our kids? Did they forget how to play, really play. Did we forget how to show them? Did we begin replacing family time with being on our devices? Aren’t we as parents guilty of this trend too? I know I find myself on my phone. I find myself bringing my phone with me sometimes just for the clock and other tools on it. Couldn’t I have just worn my watch? Does someone really need to reach me at a moment’s notice 24-7? Or should I have left my phone in the house as I walk my boys to school or the bus stop? Did I need to capture another photo of the sunset??

I love the beach. And we take our kids to the beach often throughout the summer as its only 20 minutes from our house. But recently they have grown tired of the beach. They’d rather skip it all together or if we drag them to the beach, after an hour they begin asking how soon we are going. How much longer? Really? What has happened to create kids who tire so easily of family fun? Of days spent at the beach or at the park? Even if I ask my kids if they’d like to go out to eat, more times than not, they’d rather stay home than go out, as they have been there and done that. Have we created home environments that are too cushy, too comfy, at the right temperature, with too many electronic amenities?

We take our kids camping, and to search for shark teeth or treasure. We play soccer, and football and roast smores outdoors. We go boogie boarding, and swimming. We go outside and take adventures. But somehow the impact these activities are having on our kids is short-lived and instead they’d rather go back to their virtual playgrounds. Are our kids brains wired in ways that those of us that allowed all of these modern devices into our homes and into our kids hands, going to be challenged?

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We have moments where I see hope. Just yesterday my boys played outside all day with their grown cousins, swimming in the pool, having relay swimming races and diving competition, and playing pictionary outside in their bathing suits. There are moments when my soul smiles at the sight of my kids playing like kids ought to play. But those moments are over shadowed by the feel of the controller in their hand, or the interaction they get from their tablet as they play the latest game that has them tapping the screen. I hear more laughs coming from them while they look to a million tiny pixels on the glass screen in front of them, than when they are nearby. I try to stop this digital playground from taking hold of my children, by pulling out the board games and taking them fishing, or on a bike ride, but I wonder if it’s too late. Have we created a generation of kids who want to create their own digital playgrounds and tire of ones out back and around the corner?

What will their relationships be like when they are grown? Will they be able to stay at a job for more than a moment? Will they find contentment or be satisfied?

So the question becomes – how do I balance the world we live in, that is filled with digital babysitters and millions more pixels than coloring pages? A world that is filled with creatures that can camouflage, heal themselves such as a starfish, and a landscape that changes daily but many do not see it or appreciate the miracles all around us every day and instead mentally leap into games such as minecraft to play and create their own world of blocks. Many kids prefer to play a game on the battlefield from the safety of their sofa while they have no real understanding of the death and destruction of real life battlefields. How do we all help this generation and the next to turn off the video games and put down their devices that are glued to their fingers and step outside into the biggest playground on earth?

How do we get kids to dream about going into space instead of opting to watch a movie about it and thinking that is the same thing? How do we get kids to be inspired to play with test tubes and Bunsen burners, and look at the reflective nano-particles of a butterfly’s wing?

Here are 6 tips to encourage positive family time away from the devices and other demands of our lives that can help us connect with our families.

1. Schedule Family Time Together
You need to be intentional here. Write down how often you will spend time as a family and go do something. It could be every Saturday or Sunday or one evening a week. It could be spending time playing a board game, card game, going fishing, or sitting together to enjoy a family meal together (without electronics).

2. Create an Electronics Free Zone
Choose an area of your home, perhaps the family room, where no electronic can enter when it’s family time. Kids and parents have to drop electronics into a basket at the door. Obviously, your tv or wii might be in this room, but that can be considered family entertainment.

3. Create an Electronics Free Time or Day
For many people they go to church Sunday morning. And some enjoy a family meal afterwards. Why not turn your Sunday into an electronics free day or at least until the sun sets? Of course if you need to answer the phone because family is coming over that is fine, but put the electronics away and pull out the frisbees, board games, fire pit and spend time together. Kids take cues from us, if we put away the electronics and start up an activity, more than not they will want to join in. Trust me, my 13 year old, who can be very disinterested, wants to join in once we are playing and he sees it can be fun. We just have to let him realize it on his own.

4. Set a Schedule for Device Time or Limit Number of Hours per day or week for devices
Every family should set some parameters for electronic use, particularly during the school week. Kids are not going to set their devices aside on their own, but if there are set rules and times they know they have to do something else most kids will get with the program.

5. Create a Family Adventure List
Ask each person in the family to list things that they would like to do (that do not involve electronics) and give them a starter list to circle items or add their own. These do not need to cost any money. You should set parameters for them. Example, it has to be outdoors, or free or under $20, etc.

6. Read Together
Find topics, historic events, or favorite books and read them together. Once you find a topic, event, etc the family can get some excitement going about planning an outing related to the topic. For instance, we have friends who are big Civil War buffs, so they read about that time period and the war. They take trips to civil war sites as a family. What a great memory, time together and learning opportunity.

How do you limit your family’s electronics usage, and get your kids outside more? For most of us, it is a challenge. And when we consider all of the apps our families use and social media those are additional things that pull us towards digital relationships instead of growing the relationships in our own homes sometimes. What has worked for your family?

The person your child becomes is greatly shaped by his family relationships and his home environment .

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