Copyright 2006 Mike Patrick Jr, MD
The number of entertainment options available to kids these days is mind-boggling. Playstation, X-Box, Nintendo DS, personal DVD players, the internet, iPods, cell phones–all of these compete for a child’s attention, taking away time otherwise spent in physical activity and family functions. We all know the result of decreased physical activity. Childhood obesity is on the rise, bringing with it an increased number of kids with hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and type II diabetes. But what you may not have considered is the impact these electronic devices have on family time.
It’s not just the kids’ fault. Technology distracts many parents from family time as well. Moms and Dads can watch movies every night, thanks to home-delivered DVD services, like Netflix. They comfortably surf the internet hour upon hour with lightening fast broadband connections and they bring laptops home from the office to work on next week’s presentation. And while these innovations are not inherently bad, sometimes we forget to temper our craving for technology with sensible moderation.
So the kids play their X-Box while their parents watch a movie or surf the net in a different room. How often does this scene play out in your house? You’re not alone. We do it too. And why not? Everyone is happy. Nobody is arguing–well, maybe the kid’s are arguing over the video game, but that’s a discussion for a different day. The point is that it doesn’t seem so wrong, really. And yet the family unit is weakened by a lack of good old fashioned bonding.
So what can we do about this? Well, spending more time as a family will certainly help. And I don’t mean time spent watching the same DVD together. I’m talking about family activities. I’m talking about interaction and communication. Physical activities are good–touch football in the backyard, bowling on the local lanes, a round of miniature golf at the fun center.
Or you could revive one of my favorite childhood activities: family game night. Does anyone do this anymore? Give yourselves a good three or four hours, pop a big bowl of popcorn, and everyone choose a board game–no electronic ones please.
The old standards, games like Monopoly and Clue and Life, are still around. You can find updated versions that provide variety (Haunted Mansion Clue and Pirate Life for example), while others are packaged with vintage pieces in collectible tins. Dominoes are fun. Card games work. You could even try a lively game of charades or Pictionary.
Maybe you have a quirky game from your childhood collecting dust in the closet. The quirkiest one I remember was a board game called Fat-so. Each player had a big hollow plastic fat guy that snapped together at the belt line. His mouth was an open hole, just the right size to insert little wooden tokens that represented food. Players raced around the board, eating out at pizza places, ice cream stands, and doughnut shops. At the end of the game, whoever had eaten the most, won. See, I told you it was quirky. And while I certainly don’t advocate this game as a lifestyle choice, I challenge you to find a quirky game that is as memorable. And that’s what we’re talking about–making memories.
I think the key to a successful family game night is to plan at least one a week. If you don’t plan it, it won’t happen. You forget. I forget. We all forget. But it’s important, and I bet your kids, even if their first reaction is to complain about a family game night, will remember the event fondly in their adulthood. Why? Because interaction stands out. Sitting in a chair, staring at a screen for two hours, does not.
So the next time you’re at the store, look through the game aisle and find something new. Schedule your night. Fix a special snack. Get everybody jazzed up for the event. Don’t worry if there are grumblings in the beginning. You can bet as the weeks pass, with family game night entrenched as a regular occurrence, the grumblings will cease. Everyone will forget about their tech toys, at least for this one night. Your family will grow as a unit, and fond memories will be burned into each person’s heart. So what are you waiting for? Go on. Give family game night a try!