Parent Question: Without a thought, our children drift to their electronic games, their TV shows, and their social media every time they walk into the house or awake in the morning to start their day. We are afraid they spend too much time wasting their time. We don’t want to simply say “no,” so what are some ways we can encouragement better use of their time?

Dad Says: “Idle” literally means, “spending time doing nothing.” This is not a good thing according to the Bible.

Proverbs reminds us, “Idle hands make one poor, but diligent hands bring riches (10:4, HCSB).

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks” (10:18, NIV); and, again, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle” (11:6).

These are good reasons why parents should teach their children to remain active and creative: this develops good habits so our children may prosper as adults. TV, e-games, and social media seem to be default activities for our children; as parents, we tend to let this happen. May I suggest some examples that are more positive and pro-active rather than negative ones. These aren’t just examples, however, but principles that will diminish idleness and provoke creative thinking for family fun and activities.

1. Encourage “thinking” activities that are fun and promote togetherness.

Age-appropriate games, yet still, played by all members of the household are a good replacement for activities that promote idleness. Also, find games everyone can play. Let each person choose a game — being mindful that all ages in the house will be playing. Family reading time is a great option — even if everyone is reading a different book. Share the stories with each other. Plan trips to the library or a used book store, together. These activities are fun and they foster thinking.

2. When and where possible, make up adventures outside the home.

Together take walks, jog, visit nearby museums and parks — anything that gets your family outside. I understand such adventures can be costly, so income-appropriate activities need to be planned. Take walks in your neighborhood — make a game of it, for example, by identifying objects, people, and actions that start with “A” (“apple tree”) and work through the alphabet (A to Z). Or, play “I Spy,” something that gets everyone involved. Sometimes, simply have everyone point out or find something they’ve never seen before. The point here is, get outside and be creative together. And, make this a regular activity throughout the week.

3. Get everyone working on homework together before even thinking about other “idle” activities (e.g., TV, e-games, and social media).

Yes, parents, this means us, too. Of course this might mean waiting for working parent(s) to be home. As a parent, you most likely have already paid your homework dues when growing up. Yet, your children need to see you working on something each day as well.

While the kids work on homework or school projects (invent “homework” or a project for the young ones not in school!). You could be working on household budging and finances, letter-writing, or maybe even on your own homework because you are back in school or are seeking to learn something new. The key here isn’t the “homework,” but showing your children that you are not idle yourself and need to work on your own responsibilities.

Paul urges us to replace idleness with positive activities: “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Fight idleness. Promote creative family bonding activities. Family fun and activities aren’t just about filling leisure-time and building good family bonds (which they are), which is actually wise and builds a foundation for a positive future. The key is to focus on positive activities rather than emphasizing a rule to “not” be idle.

Mom Says: Even in families with two working parents, it often falls to the mother to schedule daily household and family time. We can tend to be the “bad cop” because we are the ones to limit idle-activities. Sometimes, so we are not the tough (or the “disliked”) parent, we can let our children default into these idle activities. They can also be baby-sitters for us because we are too tired, too busy, or simply just don’t want to always be riding our kids.

Here are some suggests that promote a more positive approach:

1. Pick a weekly joint family “chore” to share together.

Depending on where your home is located, this might include shopping, house cleaning, caring for your lawn, doing laundry, doing the dishes, or even washing the car. The key here is, helping your kids to know chores “happen” at a specific time on a specific day “before” TV, electronic games, or social media. The principle here is to involve your children with the necessary daily and weekly activities of the household.

2. Find ways to reward positive, creative activities rather than denying idle activities as a form of punishment.

It often seems we use punishment as a means to limit idle activities. This doesn’t help our children to learn the difference between idleness and productive activities. As the one who watches the daily calendars, mothers can foster creative and productive activities by rewarding our children — with praise, with the next one to choose an activity, or special outings just for participating in all the “extra” family activities, chores, and homework. What is important here is presenting positive reasons to reduce any idleness among your children.

3. Let your children make plans and choices to diminish idle time.

I believe this is the most important suggestion. As part of family planning, have your children begin to understand the difference between an “idle” activity and a positive, creative one. Being idle isn’t just about non-activity, or sitting and doing nothing. Idle is doing something that produces nothing (of value), which weakens creativity and promotes harmful activities. If we allow our children to default into idle activities, they will diminish their capacity for critical-thinking, planning, and being productive. Help your children make plans for positive activities; let them explain how they will not be idle.

As a mother, we have a high responsibility to be an example is this area.

Proverbs 31:27–28 reminds us: “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”

Positive reinforcement and example, not scolding, builds up and creates a positive family environment.

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