How do you get young people off screens?

It’s one of the parenting questions of our times – how to get young people to stop scrolling and living life on screens. Any suggestions gratefully received.

Group of teenagers looking at their phones


Half term is easier to manage as kids get older. This is mainly because young people tend to sleep in in their teenage years and to mooch into view at around midday. However, they then tend to stay attached to screens for the rest of the day and resist all attempts to get them off them on the grounds that every suggestion – however imaginative and adventurous – is intensely yawn-worthy…unless it involves food. It’s something many parents are struggling with and even the Office for National Statistics is reportedly finding it hard to get young people to take part in its labour market surveys because they are too busy on their phones, scrolling social media.

The official advice is to limit screen time and check young people’s phones weekly [according to the Parent Information Evening I recently attended]. I feel I have utterly failed in this department despite numerous conversations about the need for screen breaks and the joys of anything other than watching a screen. Part of the reason is that I am outnumbered by other young people who back each other up. Another part of the reason is that I am a very poor role model. I am on screens for work all day long and sometimes into the night, although I do break off to take in trips to the guitar repair shop and the like. Also, much of the home admin is done on-screen. So much of what we used to do which wasn’t online is now on a screen. Only son teaches himself guitar online, for example.

I consider it a success when I get him off minecraft and onto watching a film, but that is just a slight movement around the house onto another screen. I’ve just managed to sucker him into agreeing to do a weekly swimming session, but the downside is that I have to do it too. The only problem is that it is so cold and wet at the moment that the last thing I want to do is jump into a swimming pool.

I am running out of any other ideas. Only son doesn’t generally want to go anywhere. I suggested he visit his sister at the coffee shop she works at in town. No way, said only son, not even to sample her newly acquired coffee art skills. Absolutely not.

I have realised over time that the only way to lure him out is with the promise of food, even if it’s only crisps or one of the freebies we’ve won on the latest McDonald’s competition. Whole trips – and even exercise – can be arranged around such things.

Yesterday’s excursion was to buy ingredients for him to cook his sister a kimchi stew as she has a cold. Only son slavishly followed the TikTok recipe and his sister said it was a great dish.

The only slight problem is the washing up. Young people, in my experience, tend to use a large array of pans and implements and, for some inexplicable reason, they can never make rice without it burning into the bottom of the pan.

I am keen to encourage only son’s cooking skills, but getting him to do the washing up will need a more creative/punitive approach. He’s finally mastered putting his dirty clothes in the washing basket, though, something his sister has yet to come to grips with, so it’s only a matter of perseverance.

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