PARENTS
07/27/2011 11:55 am ET | Updated Aug 31, 2011

Go Outside And Play! How To Unplug Your Child

The average American kid practically lives plugged in.

That's not an exaggeration, either. A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day with cells phones, computers, televisions and other electronic devices.

That means the only things keeping kids away from electronic devices are eating, sleeping and school. And, during the summer months, of course, you can generally remove school from the equation.

So, does that mean we are bequeathing our planet to a race of junior cyborgs who can only appreciate a bird if it's electronic, angry and part of a computer game?

There are ways get kids offline and plugged back into the real world. Dr. Amy Wickstrom, a family therapist, blogger and mother of two, tells AOL it sometimes is a matter of if you can't beat them, join them.

"So many kids are becoming eReaders, parents can take their kids to the local library to pick out a book and read it together there," Wickstrom says. "Many libraries have special rooms just for children that are filled with toys and sometimes a stage with props for story time."

Wickstrom tells AOL this helps engage children their imaginations, spend quality time with a parent and develop their reading skills. And, there is another purpose in this age when kids are turning their backs to ink on paper to gaze relentlessly at screens.

"It also keeps them accustomed to old fashioned books instead of eBooks," Wickstrom says.

Wickstrom, who has been a contributor to Working Mother, OC Family and more, tells AOL it's important to get kids engaged in the real world.

And what do you know? There's an app for that.

The website Kidoff.com offers free software to boot your kid off the computer and say enough is enough. You want your kid to shut "Grand Theft Auto XI: I Kill Your Grandmother" off (don't get excited, kids. It's just a hypothetical game)?

You tell your kid one more minute, but before you know it, hours have gone by. The streets are running red with the blood of virtual grannies. You start yelling. Your kid starts yelling. Everyone is in a bad mood. Ah, but there's this software.

It lets your kids go ahead with their game, but from time to time, you can "talk" to your child's computer from another computer in the house. The kids don't even know. You can see how long they've been using the computer and send warnings to their screen.

And, when their time is up, it evens sends out an audible alarm. "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!" (Well, maybe not that message.) You can make the computer shut down.

Such power. Feel free to laugh fiendishly.

But what do you do with your kids once you get them offline and outdoors? For that information, turn to the National Wildlife Federation and its "Be Out There" campaign. The effort urges parents to give their children a "green hour" each day.

The means one hour every day outdoors engaged in unstructured play.

One possibility is camping. You don't have to go to Yellowstone, either. You can camp out in your own backyard. The website for the Great American Backyard Campout offers some suggestions.

You've probably already heard of geocaching, where participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers called "geocaches" or "caches."

Believe it or not, people used to do this sort of thing well before the invention of GPS systems and all the contrapulatronic gizmos of the 21st century. It was called letterboxing. You simply hide an object and challenge others to find it by the use of clues.

Think of it like solving math problems -- without a calculator.

National Wildlife Federation leaders say this is a great way to have fun with kids outdoors, get some exercise and work on skills such as problem solving, map reading and math. They also suggest kids making a nature map of their neighborhood to learn how to define their own special natural places.

Donald Roberts, a Stanford communications professor emeritus and one of the authors of the Kaiser Family Foundation study, tells The New York Times it's important for parents to be more aware of how technology is sucking children away from the real world.

"Parents never knew as much as they thought they did about what their kids are doing," he says. "But now we've created a world where they're removed from us that much more."