Get your teens of screens

By Di Westaway | CEO Wild Women On Top 

It’s become more than a daily battle.

During the week, round one starts the minute he walks in the door from after-school tennis.

On the weekends its even more intense. Almost every waking hour, every time I think about what he’s up to. With so many devices able to be hidden in his room, I don’t know how to cope.

I know I use my devices a lot, sometimes even checking emails on the loo. But I tell myself it’s work, being efficient, juggling life as a single mum, trying to squeeze every drop out of every minute. I make sure I exercise in nature and move for at least an hour or two every day. I resist the temptation of checking Facebook too often.

But how do you get your teens off screens?

We started with rules.

No devices at the dinner table, no devices when I’m playing chauffeur, no devices while we’re watching TV. For every hour he spent on a device, he had to do an hour of physical activity outside. Even lying on the grass daydreaming at the clouds would count. I was even willing to enforce it.

Anything to keep him away from screens. But its relentless. It’s wearing me down.

Am I alone? Do all parents of i-gen kids feel like this?

When my 14 year old has a screen free day, I feel happy. No guilt. And he is happier too! When we’ve gone out and spent a Sunday exploring somewhere with no Wi-Fi, that angsty teenager attitude disappears and I get my beautiful boy back. But when we get home? It starts with ‘Oh Mum, I just want to post some pics from today to Instagram’. Next moment he’s glued.

Last week I had a win. I realised all the rushing around working, shopping, cooking, squeezing in friends, family and exercise, is all worthwhile when you escape to nature.

Standing on the lip of the crater overlooking the stunning lake Anak, below Mt Rinjani in Indonesia, I had a magic moment. My boy strolled up to me, spontaneously wrapped his arms around me, looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you mum. Thanks for bringing me here.”

Incredibly, this was after he’d been screen free, engaged in hard core trekking, for 4 days.

Instagram, Dragonvale, Facebook and Kik were replaced by climbing through the jungle, scrambling up ladders, chatting with new friends, telling jokes, running down steep dusty trails, swinging on trees, swimming in hot springs, leaping off waterfalls into warm mineral baths, playing cards and teasing monkeys.

Our Wild Women On Top Mum/Teen trek across the Mt Rinjani National Park was a winner.

The endorphins and serotonin that come from being immersed in nature, seeing the sunrise and walking with friends had replaced the dopamine and grumpiness that come from our life in Sydney.

When you get kids into nature, guess what happens? They are completely in the moment. Moving, laughing, planning and joking.

In the forest they are happy, engaged, working as a team, active, problem-solving and having healthy fun. They get their dose of happy hormones, their endorphins, plus all the physical and mental health and disease-preventing benefits of movement.

I was struck by the difference between our city life and the wilderness.

Being on screens too much is bad for our health. Moving in nature is good for it. The research to support this is now just a Google search away, so why are we spending most of our time plugged in? Both activities tap into our need for excitement through hormone stimulation but with very different short and long term outcomes. Your health is your wealth.

Research shows that the health and wellbeing of our young people is declining. A report into the health and wellbeing of young australians states that ‘20-30% of young people are suffering significant psychological distress at any one time, with less severe stress-related symptoms such as frequent headaches, stomach-aches and insomnia affecting as many as 50%’.

Have you noticed? Obese and sick kids everywhere; kids committing suicide; allergies out of control, ADHD in toddlers… And the parents struggling to find solutions. The report states that ‘fundamental social, cultural, economic and environmental changes in Australia … are impacting adversely on young people’s health and wellbeing.’

Are you concerned about your kids? Are worried about your own connection to devices? What can we do?

I am constantly searching for answers and looking for ways to engage my kids in healthy activities.

As a parent of 2 Gen Y’s and one millennial, the contrast between their world is nothing short of gobsmacking.

After school, my eldest kids used to ride billycarts down the hill, make up dance routines in their bedrooms, phone their friends on the landline or skateboard in the park. On weekends they’d spend endless hours in their bedrooms laughing and giggling with their friends, go ice skating and escape onto the roof of our house. During the holidays they spent their days in various neighbours backyards, swimming, playing, laughing.

Now, they talk via Kik, and Instagram, and Facebook. Sleepovers are only fun when there’s an Xbox or Netflix. Overseas holidays are an endless search for a Wi-Fi signal. And activities are only cool when they can share them online with a hashtag. #skiinginjapan #hectic.

We have become disconnected from nature and the fundamental activities for which our bodies and minds were created. It’s a daily battle to keep them away from screens, get them to eat healthy food and encourage them to move.

Perhaps the best solution is to continue to try to drag our sons and daughters outside, away from the screens, and to find shared wellness goals that will keep them mentally and physically healthy. By getting fit ourselves, and encouraging our kids to try to keep up, we can teach them to choose the wealth of health.

I’ve learned that it’s not just me who needs a challenging adventure to stay fit, healthy and to drag me away from screens. It works for my kids too.

And I’ve already started planning our next adventures together. With my son, I’m off on an Aussie adventure into the heart of the desert to explore the indigenous lands of the iconic Larapinta trail. And I cant wait to share it with my gorgeous boy, and watch him frolic, in the moment, in nature.

And I’m taking my daughter to Bhutan, to walk through the Rhododendron forests, marvel at the stunning mountains and experience the incredible culture of a country which measures it’s success not by GDP, but by the happiness of it’s people.

Let’s just hope there’s not a Wi-Fi signal. 

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