When I picked up my son from tennis practice yesterday, we didn’t go straight home like we usually do – instead, I took him out for a bite to eat. Once we got our food, I made sure that we both put our screens in the middle of the table, and just talked about whatever he wanted to talk about. Why? Because I need to start building in some special one-on-one time with my kids.
Lately I’ve become more and more aware of how often “life” distracts me from investing time with my family. Like most people, I am busy, and most days I feel torn between competing priorities – should I spend that pocket of free time answering those emails, paying some bills, setting up camps for the summer, or should I just hang out with my kids and have some family bonding time? Screens are always competing for time as well. And now that my son has a phone, he’s juggling that too – he’s feeling the pull of his screen as well as the usual kids’ stuff: homework, tennis practice, projects, friends, and the list goes on. A family’s life today often seems to be about going and going some more, succumbing to forces that constantly seem to pull us apart in many different directions. Does this constant “on the go” make sense? And most importantly, is it really good for the kids?
There is a lot of research that has shown that, in fact, our kids need just the opposite: they need family time and downtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that unstructured playtime is valuable to the developing brain, and other research has shown that family time, like family meals, may decrease the risk of depression and even the risk of substance abuse. Most recently, the AAP came out with screen time guidelines that again emphasized the importance of family time: it said media time should be decided upon and spent together.
With most recent data showing that up to 25% of teens have experienced anxiety, stabilizing forces such as downtime and family time becomes all the more important. When we carve out quality downtime with our kids, we are doing more than just creating fun memories or staying connected – we are actually investing in their health.
So how do we do it in our crazy hectic lives? Here are some tips I tell my patients and, frankly, use myself:
1. Schedule downtime into the calendar. Everything else gets a slot in there, so why not something this important? Also, putting downtime on the calendar will ensure that you and the family are committed to it. You could play a board game or a hike during this time – just try not to involve screens. Without them, you are more likely to talk (and find out what your kids may be thinking about).
2. Just say no. Does your daughter really need to go to 3 birthday parties on the weekend? Although birthday parties are fun, they are noisy, active events. And sometimes having some quiet time at home to decompress instead can make a difference to a child who has had a very busy week.
3. Take advantage of spur-of-the-moment opportunities to spend time with your kids. Did the soccer game get rained out? How about staying indoors and making some muffins or doing that science experiment that your son got for Christmas?
And remember, it is also very important to find balance and downtime in your own life. Taking that time to decompress and relax will help you maintain a “zenlike” attitude when you deal with your kids, which will ultimately will help you all have “quality” quality time!