Man: parenting is tough.
There’s no handbook, no training sessions, and no way to tell if you are doing a good job until one of your kids go out in public and do something that embarrasses the hell out of you.
Fortunately, you have come to the right place! I’m not saying I am God’s gift to parents – my wife will laugh in your face for hours if you ask her that question! – but I have had my kids do enough dumb things in public that I have learned a lot of valuable parenting lessons.
In my last post, I ranted about much time children are allowed to spend on devices such as tablets and cellphones, so today I wanted to toss out some alternatives to the parenting method that amounts to “I want peace and quiet so I just hand my kids electronic devices.” Again: no one is saying you have to get rid of your electronic devices altogether. Each of my kids have their own tablet, my oldest son has a phone, and we have two Xbox Ones at our house so yeah: we like our shiny devices!
Still, there is a difference between allowing your kids to have limited access to electronic forms of entertainment, and letting your kids spend every waking moment glued to these devices because it makes your life as an adult easier. What is easy for you now is going to cause all sorts of headaches for you and your kids down the road, so here are some affordable alternatives to letting your kids spend their summer in a comatose state!
Take ‘Em To Your Local Playground
My first suggestion is not ground-breaking – actually, none of mine will be – but at least where I live, it appears to be one that few people either think about or bother doing, for whatever reasons.
You would be surprised how many times I have either taken my kids to one of the playgrounds around our house, or driven by a playground on our way somewhere else, only to discover that the playground is an absolute ghost town. And I’m not talking about what I see at 8 o’clock in the morning or at night; I’m talking about dead smack in the middle of a beautiful summer day.
Why more people don’t bring their kids to playgrounds any more is beyond me, but I can tell you this much: it’s not because the kids won’t have fun! I cannot remember the last time I brought my two youngest kids to a playground and had them ask to leave before I told them it was time to go (bathroom breaks don’t count!). If I give them 30 minutes, they ask for more. If I give them an hour, they ask for more! If I give them two hours . . . okay, that’s way too long for an adult to sit at a playground. But you get the picture – kids dig it, and you will get bored long before they do.
The best things about playgrounds? Going is free, requires zero planning on your part, and the kids love it and get a shit load of exercise. The next time it is a beautiful, sunny day and you find all of your kids staring at a screen of some sort, drag ’em to the car and let them run around a playground. They’ll thank you (unless you forget sunscreen and water and wind up gifting dehydration and sunburn to your offspring, you knucklehead).
Water, water and more water! (And in the winter, snow, snow and more snow!)
Quick: name a kid who doesn’t like playing in the water. If you can, you probably know a kid who was traumatized by H2O, and I’m sorry. For the other 99.99999% of you, this option will provide you with hours of outdoor fun (and if you are lucky enough to have a fenced-in yard, this will provide you with hours of quiet drinking time!)
Kids love water. If you already own a pool, you know this by now: they will swim from sun up ’til sun down if you let ’em. But don’t think that you need a pool to entertain your kids – and for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t drag your kids to the nearby public pool!
Instead, be on the lookout for items such as Banzai’s Home Run Splash Baseball Slide, Aqua Blast Obstacle Course, or any number of the outdoor water toys they sell. Most of these items are affordable to begin with, and if you are lucky enough to come across some when a company like Walmart is marking down their prices in order to get rid of summer stock, BOOM. Hours of summer fun, for just a handful of bucks.
Of course, if you’re not one of those weird parents who think allowing your kids to play with pretend guns will turn them into violent sociopaths, you can stock up one some affordable water guns and turn your kids loose in the backyard. Hell, you can just just buy a regular old sprinkler for your yard – I used to spend hour running around my dad’s sprinkler when he was watering the front yard around dinner time. Pretty much anything that sprays or shoots water will entertain your kids way more than any video game will, even if they don’t want to admit it. And the great thing about water? When winter comes, it turns to snow, and you don’t even need to buy anything for kids to enjoy that crap!
So playgrounds and water fun work if the weather is cooperating, but if you are looking for ways to get kids off of electronics on crummy days, or when it is getting close to bed time, the playground clearly isn’t your best option.
Under these circumstances, I like to break out some board or card games – you know, the sort of things we adults did before staring at a screen became the de facto approach to killing time. Again, I am kind of amazed by how many families do not own a healthy number of these types of games – from checkers and chess, to Chutes and Ladders to Trouble, from playing War to playing Uno or Exploding Kittens, my kids will spend hours playing together when I confiscate their devices and tell them we are going to play a board or card game. Sure, they might bitch and moan when you first announce that the device are going bye-bye, but once they see you mean business, you should be able to enjoy a ton of good old-fashioned fun with the little devils.
And speaking of Exploding Kittens: if you are looking for a mobile game that your kids can play with the rest of the family, I highly recommend finding the Exploding Kittens app in either iTunes or Android Play. My twelve year-old son and I were in Massachusetts for a hockey tournament, but we wanted to keep in touch with my seven year-old so we all bought Exploding Kittens for $1.99 and played it together on the longer car drives and at nights in the hotel. The game requires a good deal more strategy than you would think when you first read about it, and is absolutely hilarious. I’m sure there are many games out there that you can get that would allow your family to game together during their allotted time on their devices, but speaking from experience, Exploding Kittens is a blast and totally harmless, even if its name sounds super violent!
Like I said: not one of the ideas I have shared in this post is revolutionary, and by no means in this list complete. More than anything, I am just hoping to shake up some people from the rut – too many parents have resigned themselves to the fact that these devices are not going to go away, so they just throw their hands up in the air and say, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Screw that – if experience has taught me much, it is that you should almost always avoid joining in on what the mindless masses are doing. Shake up your home life and thank me later!