Taffeta put it out there: “Does anyone want to write an article about how to get your kids off the couch.” I said, “NOOOPPPEEEE, hard pass,” because literally everything I tried to do to get my kid off the couch totally failed. And Taffeta said, “Oh look, a learning experience. You should share.”
So, here I am to share with you – what NOT to do when it comes to getting your kids off the couch.
First, you should know the context. I wrote a previous article about feeling so bad that COVID canceled my kid’s prime teenage years that I let her get away with doing anything, which basically meant she did NOTHING. And there wasn’t a lot to do – we couldn’t go anyplace. But the natural state of a teenager is inactive, so I was enabling some bad habits that then became much harder to break.
Don’t Do As I Say
The first thing I tried was to get her to do was start regularly walking the dog. The first thing she did was to start hiding in her room to avoid walking the dog. I nagged, she pouted, we fought, and the real loser in the situation was the dog. So, I finally gave in and walked the dog.
I tried offering bribes and threatened punishment, and nothing worked. And, as noted in the previous article, I still felt bad she was missing her sophomore year experiences: No field hockey, no 4H, no homecoming dances, no Kung Fu, no friends—none of her normal activities were available.
Depression runs in our family, which was clearly playing a part in this inertia. So, I never pushed too hard. As a result, her grades fell, her attitude sucked, she put on weight, and things were generally terrible.
I’d love to take the credit for what eventually worked, but it was nothing of my doing. Our schools opened back up with options—students could go to school or continue to work at home. I popped her back in school IMMEDIATELY and even requested she go for four days instead of the two-day hybrid schedule they were starting off with. Because her grades had dramatically dropped while at home, the school was willing to do this.
And this changed everything. Getting back into a schedule and seeing other people brought her back to life.
But even though things are SO much better now, I still struggle with getting her off the couch on weekends when she doesn’t have plans. The sofa is her go-to, default, comfort-food place.
Do As THIS Person Says
I have the privilege of working with some great people in my job. One of them is a pediatrician named Dr. Julia Nordgren. Since I did everything wrong when it came to getting my kid off the sofa, I asked her what I should have done so that I can pass her wonderful advice on to our readers.
Dr. Julia responded to my question with some questions of her own.
· Why do they want to lie around all day? (because they are teenagers.)
· What are they doing? (Phone. TV. Phone. Games. Phone. And then mixing it up occasionally by doing all of the above at the same time.)
· Are they depressed? (Most likely.)
· Are they struggling with media addiction? (Most likely.)
· Are they doing something they perceive as more fun than getting out into the world? (Definitely likely.)
Give Them Choices that Lead to Them Doing What You Want
She went on to say, “Many teens would rather play video games or watch YouTube than go on a family hike. So, it is up to the parents to set up their choices.
For example, a choice could be, do you want to go on a family hike, a bike ride, or help me clean out the garage?
As parents, we need to understand that being on the couch typically doesn’t foster anything good in terms of physical, mental, or emotional health. If they have an option to just be on the couch in front of a screen, most teens will take it.”
When laid out like that, yes. *I* would find a bike ride or a family hike preferable to the option of cleaning the garage. But teens will still find the option of laying on the sofa preferable to all of the above. At which point she suggested the following:
“Parents need to do the unthinkable – turn off the wifi!”
Yikes! Harsh, Dr. Julia! But, she’s totally right and had I thought about it, it would have worked. Wifi off for three hours a day and your kid gets a couple options to decide between during that time, so they still feel like they have some say in how they are spending their time.
Even if it means your kid storms down to Starbucks in a huff just so they don’t mess up their Snap streaks, at least they’re off the couch.
Dr. Julia continued, “Once the wifi is off, there is a lot less competition for a teen’s attention and energy. And I think parents underestimate how much their teen might enjoy being active with their parents.
And be sure to offer things that aren’t high pressure or overly athletic. Being physical (and outdoors whenever possible!) should be fun and a joyous way to experience the world. Like running around on the beach with a dog. Or playing Spike Ball in the yard. Or having a lawn darts competition. It doesn’t have to be too serious. And kids don’t have to love every minute of it. Going on a hike even when kids are grumpy is better than having them lie around all day!”
So now we are all better prepared to handle the sofa situation during the next pandemic. Or, in the case of my teenager, we are better prepared to handle Saturday.
With special thanks to Dr. Julia Nordgren for advising on this subject. You can find more of Dr. Julia’s advice, as well as delicious and nutritious recipes on her website or check out her published materials: The New Family Table and How Superfoods Work.
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