QUESTION: As the weather warms up outside, our family is getting ready for a busy spring. I want to make sure, though, that we are spending time as a family. We would love some ideas of how to spend quality time together as a family.

ANSWER: Family time is very important, and we are glad that you want to make it a priority. Many families struggle to know how to spend time with one another in today's technological age. With cell phones, social media, computers, televisions and game consoles, there are so many ways we can distract ourselves and keep from spending time together.

Covenant Eyes ran an article that said "Since 2007, there has been a sharp drop-off in the amount of face-to-face time families spend together in Internet-connected households. In the first half of the decade, family face time has dropped from 26 hours per week to 18 hours in 2010 (1)." Because of this sharp decline, families need to be very intentional about spending time together and actually face to face. The article goes on to say that "up to 47% of people have felt ignored by a family member due to internet usage (2)." That is a staggering number.

Don't just think it is kids or teenagers spending too much time online either. As counselors, we often hear of kids who feel their parents are online too often or spending too much time on Facebook or other social media sites. We are all responsible for this decline in face-to-face time, which means we all have a part in making it better.

Recently, there has been a great deal of research on family dinners and how they help kids and teenagers feel connected. "Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine" found that "frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs; with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11-to 18-year olds (3)." If a simple family dinner can do all of that for your children, imagine what more face to face interaction might do for them.

Now that we have established the importance of time together, let's talk about some things you can do to have fun as a family:

  1. Grab some outdoor games such as cornhole, a ball and glove or bocce ball and play an outdoor game together. You can go to a park or simply do this in your back yard. 

  2. Make sure to have at least three family meals a week together. Sit around the table and talk. Make sure you are not using this time to be on the phone or watching TV. 

  3. Have a board game night. There is nothing more fun than getting out the Monopoly game or a deck of cards. This kind of interaction can lead to not only fun, but also some great conversations.

  4. Go for a hike. You mentioned the weather warming up. Look for places close to your area where you can get outside and be active with one another. 

  5. Ride bikes together as a family. Dust off those old wheels and get to peddling. Being physically active together and going on an adventure with your kids is always a good idea. 

There are many other things you can do together as a family too. Just make sure to unplug and spend quality time together. It may take some time to get used to not being plugged into technology, and it may be hard for your kids at first, but after a while, all will get use to the family's new way of functioning. Try it out and let us know how it goes.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

This post is from our former blog series called "Ask Anne" through Pathways Professional Counseling.