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Alternative Activities to Screen Time

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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Alternative Activities to Screen Time


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How to get 11 and 14 year old outdoors, away from computer?

June 2012

Watching my kids (14 and 11) spend an entire perfectly sunny Sunday afternoon at home in front of the computer playing games drives me nuts, and made me wonder, where can my kids go outside and hang out? Both of them are involved in various after school activities (1 each, so they are not over-scheduled), they are physically active and healthy, and they certainly can have some downtime in front of the computer, but with summer approaching, I just can't have them doing this at every unscheduled moment.

They seem so unmotivated to get outside. Last weekend, I had to kick them out of the house taking either their bikes or skateboards with them, and told them ''Just go SOMEWHERE.'' Neither of them are so much into skateboarding that they want to go and skate, and we live in a geographically isolated part of Berkeley, so there's not a lot of kids around the neighborhood for them to hang out with. Most of their friends live in other neighborhoods and are involved in organized sports games on the weekends, so their friends are not always around just to hang out. Some of their friends belong to local pools (we do not) so at least their friends have a place to go and hang out.

I've spent much of their earlier years taking them out to local parks and museums on the weekends. These days, I spend much of the weekend catching up on my own work (I work part-time at home), and now that they are older, I don't feel that I should be their tour guide and social director anymore, but it's as though they lack this skill of finding their own entertainment outside of electronic media.

Is this a ''be careful of what you wish for'' situation, wanting my kids to get outside and hang out more? wanna be outside


11 and 14? You have very little time left to enjoy with them. Even in a very isolated part of Berkeley, high schoolers (if not before) have better things to do than hang out with you -- ever! Seriously, take advantage of their spare time while you have it. Give all of you the gift of togetherness and set an example of outdoor appreciation. And spend some time with each of them separately. Enjoy the remarkable environment we live it. Don't tell them where you are going -- keep it a surprise. But every weekend have an outing: Borrow a dog (if you don't have one) and go to Pt. Isabel, Walk the Curran Trail to Inspiration Point (or any other Tilden Park trail), Ride bikes on the bike path along the bay, Swim at Lake Anza (or Temescal Lake), Take a ferry ride to the Ferry Building (or to Angel Island or to nowhere), Watch the sunset from Indian Rock (bring a picnic dinner), Attend theater in a park (Shakespeare, SF Mime Troupe, etc -- all free), Read aloud to them under a tree, Plant a small garden, Go to a U-pick, Go to the beach (Alameda, SF, Marin), Take a walk at night, Press flowers, Participate in nature art with Zach Pine, Feed the birds at Lake Merritt, Rent a paddle boat at Lake Merritt, Go orienteering with Bay Area Orienteering Club, BBQ dinner at a local park with friends, Fly a kite at Cesar Chavez Park, Walk across the GG Bridge. OK, I gotta stop somewhere. Just look around. You can spend one hour or 10 -- it's more important and so much better than anything you are ''catching up'' on. Love the outdoors

Hobbies for 13 yr old boy other than video games?

Nov 2008

After my son has done his homework, he is at a loss of what to do, besides video games. He is an active sort, and likes to play sports, but this is not possible in the evenings. I want him to find some thing of interest that does not involve a computer or video game or tv. He likes to read biographies of sports heroes, he also enjoys sudoku and hidden word puzzles. Ideally I would like him to find a hobby that he can develop some expertise, like photography, coin collecting. Am I unrealistic? What might be of interest to a boy of this age? Thanks for any ideas! mama of a hobbyless child!


There are evening sports. Check with your local city recreation dept or the Y. For example, El Cerrito Youth Basketball for 13 year old boys meets 6:30-7:30 pm on Mon and Wed. -- sports mom
How about drumming? It's great for kids who are active and love sports as it requires a fair amount of stamina and coordination. Electronic drum kits are fairly cheap and since he would wear headphones to play them it won't drive you crazy when he practices. YPI (Young Performers International) has some great teachers in the East Bay that would love to come to your house and work with your son. And when he acquires some basic skills, we can then place him in a band with other kids his age and skill level. You can find out more about the program at www.youngperformersintl.org. L.
My son would happily fill all the hours of his day with the following: practicing Cuong Nhu (his martial art), reading (ask the librarian or book store which series to get him hooked on), playing guitar, listening to the Beatles, drawing, computer programming with MIT's ''Scratch'', and playing with the dog. Just some ideas from a mom with a son who cannot get enough ''free'' time.
Try a musical instrument -- guitar might be a good choice. anon

Need suggestions for getting 14-y-o son off computer

May 2006

I need some suggestions for ways to lure my 14-year-old son off the computer. He spends all of his time either surfing, on MySpace or playing a computer game. He has never been terribly verbal, and needs help with his social skills (he has been diagnosed with NLD--Non-Verbal Learning Disorder) and I think this constant computer use is both negatively affecting his limited social skills and serving as a mean of escaping--or at least avoiding--his problems, mostly loneliness. Right now he barely speaks to us (not out of anger, he just seems to have nothing to say) and it is difficult to have even a rudimentary conversation with him. When he does enter the conversation, many of his conversational comments are wildly inappropriate--either having nothing to do with the current conversation or totally random or just strange, as if out of a computer game, which they probably are! Be aware that he is getting counseling, so this post isn't about getting him help with his problems, it's about getting him interested in something else!

Can anyone suggest some activities to help him ''fill the time'' or find other interests? We are focusing on reading (not a huge hit), writing (because he's expressed interest in writing short stories or comics), drawing, and/or playing his guitar. Any advice or suggestions or comments would be very much appreciated. Thanks! Nancy


My son will also stay on the computer indefinitely if we let him, so we don't! We limit to 2 hrs/day. I don't think you will be able to find anything that interests him MORE than the computer, but if you just cut him off, he'll have to find something to do. Don't let him have a computer in his room. Deborah
You could be describing my son 3 years ago. I tried everything, and none of it helped. Now, at 17, he is finally beginning to come out of his shell. One of the things that seems to have become a bridge for him is politics. We are starting to have conversations on an adult level on this topic, and sometimes he'll even cross over into limited discussion on other topics (some even having to do with emotions!) as long as I don't push it much. So my point is that it might be a maturational issue. If you try and still can't get thru to him, know that he might just outgrow this stage. I'm finally just now beginning to relax about it--for a while, I wondered if there was something really wrong with him. Turns out he's actually ok. Just a little different. --Relieved at last
If your son plays guitar he might be interested in BandWorks. It's a pretty cool thing. It's a good way to socialize without having the pressure of talking! They place kids with similar tastes in music, and similar skill levels together and help them to play some songs and sometimes they have a final performance at Ashkenaz. It's low-pressure and very empowering. They have several different programs during the summer, check out the website: www.bandworks.com. Good Luck anon
Boy Scouts is a good option. It definitely gets teenagers away from computers and gives them important life skills. My son has benefited. His troop, based in Oakland, works on leadership skills in addition to rank advancement. It's good on working with Scouts who join after middle school. Its link is http://www.troop-202.net/ Is your son getting help with social skills? Michelle Garcia Winner's Social Thinking clinic in San Jose comes highly recommended. http://www.socialthinking.com/ Janice
Your son might get interested in music production, which is offered after school and during the summer at several venues, one even listed in the May 26th newsletter where your original post appeared. Many high schools are beginning to offer this instruction as part of the curriculum, precisely because it's so effective at helping techie, aspergers, ADD, NLD and autism spectrum kids segue into socialization, and besides, it's creative.

Music production is pretty computer centered these days, but it does involve the technician with other musicians, a class, with other techie types, in which to learn the techniques, and thus an entree to the rich East Bay teen music scene, with lots of other teens at all-ages clubs. -rock 'n' roll mom


14 and 15 yr olds aren't interested in anything but computer games

May 2001

Regarding the May Albany High School PTA presentation on computers and teens. My younger son has been rationed to 2 hours a day, which is still outrageous. None of his friends families impose limits. They play Diablo II on the internet. Also, I have wracked my brain to find activities a 14 and 15 yr old would be interested in. They aren't interested in sports, anything nature related, science (exploratorium/Lawrence Hall burn out), art, reading, or anything unrelated to computer games. Any suggestions? They are otherwise doing very well in school.
Signed, Ready to Pull Plug


I know EXACTLY what you mean. My 15-year-old has no interests outside of Ultima Online and a few other computer games. It is a very interesting game - I have played it myself - but I am worried about how much time he spends on it. He does play the game with his friends, I am not worried about his becoming antosocial, but he will go without food and sleep to play his games and of course he is not doing homework. A couple of weeks ago, due to his poor grades, I took away the computer during the week. I have to unplug the keyboard and mouse and hide them. That is the only way I can enforce it. He really hates me now, and sulks around the house, refusing to speak to me. He fills up the afternoon hours now taking very long showers, napping, watching TV, leafing through comic books. Help!
To: Ready to Pull Plug

In response to the parent worried about too much computer gaming, find a social activity your kids enjoy! If you and they can find something they WANT to do, it will take the conflict out of the your relationship with your kids. While that is easily said, I know that you have already looked at many other activities, and have found nothing they are interested in.

I am the director of The Roleplay Workshop. Many of the students who enroll in my after school and summer programs are highly focused on computer games. I created The Roleplay Workshop to find a way to use the strengths of role playing gaming, which is very similar to computer gaming, to work with adolescents. Role playing fosters creative and abstract thinking and relies heavily on mathematics and statistics. And, unlike computer games, it encourages cooperative problem solving by the participants.

At heart, role playing is story telling. Like in a computer game, the players are the main characters in the story. They influence the direction and resolution of the story. The players become deeply and actively involved in the game, and are aware of the skills and information they are learning.

Our program is specifically designed to teach real life skills in a creative, imaginary setting. We stress non-violent solutions to the "missions" players are given. Players work together to solve the fantasy scenarios with logic, common sense, and intuition. They learn biology, earth sciences, philosophy and ethics in a supportive and fun environment. The Roleplay Workshop is ultimately about learning to take personal responsibility for chosen actions. Playing the game allows kids to make mistakes and learn from them. This gives them increased self-esteem and intellectual independence.

My training and experience are important factors in the success of the program. I received my early training at the University of Michigan, and received a Bachelors of Sciences in Zoology in 1982. I spent most of the next year in the Philippines as a research assistant for an ecology research project. My experiences with the cultures in the Philippines provided much of the complexity found in the world of Abantey. The name Abantey is derived from a Bisayan (a dialect of the Philippines) word and means: "to forge ahead or lead". The Roleplay Workshop offers a variety of programs, including: after school sessions, school holiday sessions, summer day camps, tutoring, birthday parties, and parent sessions. starting soon. For more information, please visit our web site: http://www.roleplay-workshop.com, or call Becky at (510)654-3582.

Rebecca L. Thomas becky at roleplay-workshop.com
Director, The Roleplay Workshop


From another pilgrim. suggestions Get your son in a multimedia class this summer where he has to work at learning the programming behind the games.(director is the key program). What about these film making or writing classes. in this last email. I would tell them that this is the foundation of game making.

Remember some parents are happy the kids are in the house on a video game where they can seem them. Explain this to your son's with emphasis on compassion for those parents and emphasis on how they are being prepared to help the world by making the best of what they came in and although they can take a little time off they have work to do. They need to learn, to become skilled and not a minute to is to be wasted. (this is actually true. They have to understand many children don't even get to go to school and would die for the opportunity).

I personally am for having your child take a musical instrument and sport. Emphasize the sex appeal of playing an instrument if you have to. Sports can be non competitive. I think it would help the general out look.

If they have time to do their homework, practice his instrument and do a sport and play games. Then more power to him. So far mine works hard and can only get in an hour here and there .

Examine the issues behind why he is playing. Sometimes life becomes very overewhelming for these kids and they want to zone out. Computer gaming is a great zoning out method. Gaming might be a socializing thing for his crowd. Therefore he needs to have something to talk about with his friends. About two hours a week should do it.

I have a step son who is an emotionally young 15 who literally could spend 8-10 hours a day playing video games (and did before I worked him out of some of them) He has a hard time sorting out life, school etc. The gaming world is where he can control the environment. But like all addictions it doesn't really do the trick in the long run. He gets unable to sort out anything. I've been working on this problem for three years.My blanket rule is no playing games or watching t.v. in the day time. It works since that's what my mother said and I have the strong conviction that is what should be. (Otherwise I spent the entire day arguing )

I have tried giving him games that have some hidd educational value. So far the kids see through me but the Sims family has been a game where we are both happy. They create senerios and work out life issues through this game. The boys like it. The other is typing tutor games which has gone over like a wet blanket. I require an exchange. They do one half hour of my stuff for their one half hour. Good luck.> jgerrard


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