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Curfew: 10:00 pm on weeknights. 11 pm on weekends.

No video games except from 8-9 pm.

Homework time is from 3-5 daily.

No Social Media until you are 17.

Rules. Rules. Rules.

How many kids do you know who love rules?

I haven’t met very many kids who like rules. But we all need boundaries for our behavior. As we work toward raising kids ready for real life, how can we switch the paradigm from a list of rules to a set of equations where their input and choices influence their outcomes?

When you remember our own childhood, you probably think of playing on the neighborhood playground after school, coming up with games or playing sports with a modified set of rules. Today’s children spend more time in structured than unstructured activities. Instead of drawing boundaries for a field with sticks and working out the details of what constitutes a home run or a goal, they play on chalked off fields with coaches instructing them. Instead of using Legos to come up with their version of a house or helicopter, many “engineers” follow the intricate instruction booklets included with every new boxed set. Instead of creating a town for Barbies or stuffed animals, television and video games fill the after school hours for many children.

We need to give kids room to create their own rules.

Darell Hammond, who lived in a group home as a youngster, founded the non-profit KaBoom to encourage communities to improve the lives of children. He urges kids to “get off the soccer field and onto the playground. Children need to get out of the gym and into neighborhood stickball games. We need to give kids room to create their own rules, set their own terms, and move their bodies in their own ways.” When kids are empowered to make their own rules, they learn executive function skills and are more likely to follow them because they believe them to be more reasonable than imposed rules.

What would it look like if we switched from making rules to helping our children follow equations?

How do we maintain order in our homes and yet allow our children to participate in making and maintaining the boundaries? Tim Elmore of Leading the Next Generation give some suggestions.

One thought is, take an age-old parent/teen dispute. Perhaps instead of having a curfew for teenagers, we could have some parameters around what time they come home. For example: before you leave, we want to know where you will be, who you will be with, and an approximate time you will be home. If you find you will be more than half an hour late, text us to let us know. As long as you are reasonable with these guidelines, you don’t need to have a set curfew time. Seems a bit scary as a parent to not know exactly when your son or daughter will be home, but if we want them to be able to navigate managing their own time in the future, this is a good step.

Another thought is what to do about video games or social media time? That’s another doozy. As a parent, it is much easier on us to have rules around these issues so we can try to manage them. However, learning how to manage oneself online is going to be a vital skill for everyone in this generation. It is prudent to allow tweens and teens to manage themselves while they are still at home and have parents to guide them. Because we each currently have various gaming and screen time rules, an equation for these will look different for each family. Things to consider might be: having a list of responsibilities to be completed before screen time is allowed, letting your older kids determine how much screen time they think is reasonable, and then asking them how they will manage sticking to their limit. With younger children you might have an equation that allows a one-to-one or one-to-one-half ratio for earning screen time. If they read/play outside/do chores for an hour, then they earn commensurate screen time to use at their discretion.

When kids are involved, there is more compliance.

If we change the paradigm from setting rules in an attempt to control our child’s behavior to discussing boundaries and equations for achieving a mutually agreeable goal, we may find we have fewer arguments. When kids are involved in making the equations, you set them up to develop executive function both in negotiating the parameters and in learning how to manage themselves within their new freedoms.

Webster’s defines safari as “the caravan and equipment of a hunting expedition especially in Eastern Africa.”

But it is also defined as a “journey or expedition.

For the purposes of family fun, we will go with definition number two.

However, there are a few added elements to a family safari. You must have:

  1.  A direction

  2.  A camera

  3.  A beverage of choice for each participant

  4.  An attitude of discovery and adventure

Get ready for a family fun adventure!

A safari doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and start with malaria shots and updated passports. You have a safari just outside your front door.

In our family, we have a special definition of “safari,” and if your family chooses to adopt it, we promise you will have tons of fun and make some etched memories that will last a lifetime. Family fun can be hard to come by as kids get older and schedules take over the calendar. But the kind of safari we are talking about can be squeezed in between swim practice and a birthday party, or a trip to the dentist and a visit to the grandparents.

Want an excuse to connect with your kids of all ages? Grab your best hat and let’s go.

The safari starts in your driveway.

Load up all your people and whatever you need for a day (or several hours if that is what you have available). Make sure someone has a camera to capture the moments and surprises. If your children have phones or electronic devices, leave them at home. This may cause irritation at first, but once you get going, they will get over it. The point is to be together and in the moment, not perfecting the photos for an Instagram post.

First stop is your favorite watering hole (or drive through) to make sure everyone has a beverage. Choose a direction. This should not be cause for a family feud. You can simply elect one person, perhaps the youngest, to choose north, south, east, or west. For advanced safari-goers, you may also choose double directions like northwest or southeast. Then your trusted safari leader, AKA driver, finds the closest road headed in that direction, and you’re off.

There are two keys to a successful safari.

1st- Only the navigator is allowed to use an electronic device, and this should be done sparingly if at all. Once you have chosen a direction, it is ok to get lost or just continue heading in that direction until time to come home. Searching for directions home is totally allowed, and even encouraged if you have a set deadline to be back to civilization.

2nd-  You must stop at every interesting opportunity, no matter how odd or simple it may seem. That strange store with the Godzilla statue out front, perfect photo opp. The restaurant with the parking lot full of pickup trucks, a must. The big field of cotton or soybeans or sunflowers you just want to grab a closer look at, yes. If there is one of those antique malls with stalls of fabulous junk, give each person a small amount of money and a time limit and see who can purchase the most interesting item.

This is a great chance to teach your children some fun ‘old school’ car games.

Fun games like license plate bingo, who has the most cows or horses on their side of the road, the ABC’s of the roadway, or other things you remember arguing with your siblings about from the backseat (with no seatbelt of course). Questions like, “What animal would you be and why?” or “If you could have any famous person to dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?” can be fun ways to kick off interesting conversations. Here are some more from Parents.com you could even print to take with you.

In an age where it is harder and harder to carve out time to just be together as a family, a safari is an oasis for some family bonding and laughter1st-

Your son rushes home from school, not to head out and see which other guys want to play pickup basketball, but to head to his room, don his headphones, and spend the hours between now and dinner “connecting” to his friends playing Fortnite. Gone are the days of telling our teens to “turn off the tv and do your homework.” Homework, gaming, social media, research for school, Netflix, and even phone (FaceTime) calls are all intertwined and consume almost all the waking hours our students are not in school. A new study by Common Sense Media found that teens are spending an average of nine hours a day using entertainment media. Tweens had an average of six hours a day.

Average amount of time a Fortnite player spends with the game per week:   6-10 hours

Percentage of Fortnite players that are students that have skipped class to play it:  35%

Percentage of Fortnite players that are aged 18-24:  60%

Does it surprise you to think that your son or daughter, who claims not to have time to mow the grass, eat a family dinner, or spend an hour with Grandpa on the weekend, is spending 6-10 hours a week playing a game? This is one area where we would be thrilled to have a child who was below average. But what if she was above average? More than 10 hours a week? Yikes.  

What is a parent to do? There is something you can do. It is simple, but just as anything with teens, not necessarily easy. PowerThesaurus.org says the antonym for “social media” is “real presence.” The first obstacle to overcome is creating opportunities for our students to have real presence with us and with others. If the allure is powerful enough, it can overcome even the enticement of online gaming.  

Five simple steps to increasing your teen’s real presence quotient:  

1-Have a discussion.  Using an app like Moment can be eye-opening for you and your teen to see how much time she is spending on different apps or activities. Having a discussion about time management and what your family guidelines are regarding screen time is a great first step.

2-Create Online Free Zones/Times. Using a parent control app like Our Pact, a Circle wi-fi router, or the built in Screen Time on the iPhone can allow you to block certain hours each day or each week that will be internet free. If your teen is older, allowing them to manage this themselves builds trust.

3-Invent Fun. Creativity really counts here. Connect with other parents and choose a weekly time for teens to gather. Willingness to drive them to a park with sports fields or courts available might be key. Offering to have them all over for pizza and a game night (board games, not online games!) would be another option. Asking your son or daughter to brainstorm activities with you might create good ideas. A scavenger hunt in the neighborhood or at a safe local gathering place is highly interactive and fun.

4-Call the Gang Together. Getting students to buy into this idea may take some work, but see if you can offer to order their favorite pizza or make their favorite meal as a reward for coordinating schedules with their friends to make this happen. For them it is as easy as initiating a group text.

5-Schedule the Next Gathering. When you have the group together, make sure they coordinate the next week’s plan. Offer a prize for the winner of the chess/checkers/ping pong/pool tournament. The winning scavenger hunt team can pick the next sport outing. Within the group does anyone have a pool table, corn hole set, swimming pool, or other incentive to hang out? Try coordinating with that family to host the group.  

If your efforts result in your teen having two to three hours a week with real presence instead of online presence, you have been successful. We are not going to eliminate the internet or the allure of gaming. But with a plan and persistence, we can encourage our teens toward face to face relationships. We all know real relationships are not only beneficial for building friendships today, but also valuable for developing skills to enhance their future.

How do you motivate your child to be creative?

When your children are still young, what are some things you can do to encourage them to enjoy childhood and utilize their creativity instead of turning to a device to provide all their entertainment?

First, naturally limit use of electronic devices to fill times of boredom.

A quick Google search of “the value of boredom” revealed:

Why is it that we have lost the love of boredom? Where do good ideas come from? Being bored. Making sure that we don’t hand our child a device or allow them to flip on the television or computer every time they claim “I’m bored,” is a huge step toward helping them develop skills that allow them to seek alternatives to electronics.

Setting up stations or areas where your child can go when they are bored, can encourage creative play

A Dress-Up Station

Fill a bin with open-ended dress-up ideas.  Old clothes from your closet, Grandma’s or Goodwill is a great start. Look for Halloween costumes on sale in the winter. Scarves, costume jewelry, and even large fabric remnants can inspire your little one to get into character and go on adventures.  Accessories such as shoes and sunglasses also add a fun touch. Don’t forget a mirror so they can see how great they look. Dress-up can result in hours of pretending, dance events, and creative character play.

A Building Station

A tub with building supplies provides an opportunity for trial and error and figuring out the best way to create a project. Of course, Legos are great but so are other building materials. A visit to a construction site dumpster (with permission) or the local home improvement store can yield endless pieces for modular play. Various size pieces of PVC pipe and fittings, boards (remove any nails or splinters), and other building materials make for fort building paradise. Add a few sheets from a yard sale and your children may want to spend the night in their new creation.


An Arts & Crafts Station

Another storage tub could be dedicated to arts and crafts supplies. Stock up when school supplies are plentiful and add paints and paint brushes, fabric scraps and embroidery thread, glue and some construction paper, old magazines, and a couple of T-shirt’ for smocks.  Your artistic child will be content for hours creating a masterpiece for your fridge.

As with any activity for young children, you will need to set parameters on where they can spread out their creative supplies and how they will need to clean them up and return them to the storage tub. Eventually they will be able to independently choose activities, rather than always going to a device for entertainment.

By offering this unstructured time, think of the opportunities you are providing for your child.  They are practicing skills that use creativity, imagination, and innovation. So next time your youngster starts to whine, instead of handing over the iPad, reach for an activity tub to inspire them