Getting my kids off screens used to feel like a full-time job. Given I already had a full-time job, I didn't particularly fancy spending my weekends nagging and dragging grunting teens away from screens, or engaging in the inevitable battles that ensued. In the school holidays things only got worse.
But I recently realised it's not so intense anymore.
In fact, my daughter, who used to opt for heels over hiking and coffee over climbing, now tells me about her sunrise walks and active adventures, rain, hail or shine. My youngest son, still stuck in the teenage-screenage zone, now surfs, skateboards, bike rides and practices slam dunking on the weekend with mates. And, surprise, surprise, he recently organised a cliff-top hike for a weekend gathering with his mates. I was stunned!
As any parent of screenagers will know, saying to your children "XYZ is really good for you!" is an excellent way to ensure they do the opposite. But there are ways to get your kids to put down their phones, go outside and move more this school holidays.
1. Put down your phone, go outside and move more
You knew I was going to say this, right? Sorry. You gotta turn off Grace and Frankie Mumma Bear, put your runners on and get into nature. Your kids imitate what you do, not what you tell them to do, so it's time to practice what you preach.
2. Start small, and then get wilder
Set up a tent in the backyard. Suggest a sunrise hike on your beach holiday. Wander to a waterfall or stroll along the coast.
Once they've experienced a taste, try something a little wilder. Pitch that tent in the woods. Morph that beach holiday a biking or hiking one, with a touch of glamping for dessert. Plunge into that waterfall, or turn that coastal stroll into a rock scramble. And if you still can't tempt them, bribe them with a mate or two. Or with something they already love like gelato, shopping or culture.
I used the hot springs to entice my daughter to climb Mt Kinabalu in Borneo and a visit to see the chimpanzees to convince my son that walking up a volcano was a good idea. Years later, they remember the hiking as the highlight rather than the hot springs or monkeys. Job done.
3. Swap inside gatherings for outside ones
Try taking them and their friends to historic forts, local billabongs, nature reserves, parks, lakes, rock shelves or cliffs. And if they're too old to be told, tempt them with something cool like a secluded beach where they can hang out with friends while you make yourself scarce.
I managed to engineer this for a recent 15-year-old birthday. We met in the late afternoon and walked through the forest to a deserted beach for sunset. Then I disappeared for a few hours while the kids hung out happily, playing ball, making a fire and chatting. The highlight was the trip back after dark with torches!
4. Make family holidays more adventurous
If you're not into camping, try a cabin in the woods or glamping. There are heaps of amazing eco-lodges and youth hostels near forests and national parks, on rivers and lakes, by the beach and in the hills. And kids LOVE being in nature. They thrive.
Once they hit 12 or 13, you might need to invite their friends to get them interested. It's a lot of effort, but so worth it. And you'll love it, too.
5. Don't drive them everywhere – make them walk, bike ride or skateboard
When your kids are little they can ride their bikes while you walk or jog. As they get older you can ride or go for walks together, and they can skateboard with mates and walk to the bus.
And don't pick them up just because they ask you to. It might seem tough at first, but giving them some freedom saves you from being a taxi service and you're doing them a big favour with independence as well as health.
I'm not going to lie, getting your kids off screens and into nature is hard. Really hard. But it can be done and it can be fun. And I promise you, it's worth it.