I have a love-hate relationship with video games. Love: They improve hand-eye coordination, teach strategy, and keep my boys out of my hair. Think about a plane trip with two boys and no video games – I felt the shiver that just went down your spine. Hate: The glazed look in the eyes of a boy who’s been vaporizing aliens all morning. Whither my sweet, intelligent, enthusiastic boy? And who left this incoherent, complaining pile of irritating human in my house?
When you’re a mom in 2013, video games are all but unavoidable, and boys get hooked on gaming faster and harder than girls. But there comes a point when enough is enough and you need your boys back in the real world. Here are 20 things my boys usually find more interesting than video games. No guarantees, but they’ve worked for me.
1. Hire them. My younger son is surprisingly motivated by paying work. You can pay your kids to weed the garden, organize the DVD shelf, match plastic containers to lids – all the crap we grownups hate to do.
2. Look at pictures. My kids find their baby pictures infinitely fascinating. They also find fascinating the photos of Grandma before her nose job and me in my 7th grade “aren’t perms cool?” phase. (Consider hiding circumcision pictures, however.)
3. Bake something. Whether you’re making chocolate chip cookies, brownies, or pie, kids will be happy to help. You’ll have to clean flour and butter out of your navel (and theirs) and deal with the sugar rush, but the process is fun.
4. Do something messy. Whipped cream, shaving cream, mud – let ‘em squirt and slather. Of course, this works best when outdoor space is available for the subsequent hose-down.
5. Find a friend. One boy banned from video games is a whining ball of intolerable. Two boys banned from video games can usually come up with something interesting to do. Just make sure they can’t get into your underwear drawer or your liquor cabinet.
6. Paint a wall. All boys dig the Tom Sawyer thing.
7. Turn on the hose. You’ll be sacrificing your water bill for your sanity, but some days it’s worth it.
8. Dig a hole (you decide where). When they’re done, plant a tree. Drop in their Gameboys while you’re at it. Instant reduction of video game availability.
9. Leave the house. Take them to the grocery store. Whoever correctly identifies the most vegetables earns an extra half-hour of video games the following day. The loser(s) have to make dinner.
10. Hold a contest. Brothers have been pitted against each other from biblical times. Hide the swords and encourage a little sibling rivalry. I always like a good “Who
can get ALL their pee in the toilet?” contest.
11. Pillows. Throw every pillow you can find on the floor and see what happens. Warning: may end with a visit to the nearest emergency room.
12. Balloons. We once planned a birthday party for 50 preschoolers. It rained and ruined our backyard plans. We cleared the furniture, blew up 400 balloons, and bought several gallons of tequila. Instant party.
13. Make a video. Hand over a camera and tell your kid to channel his inner Scorcese. Again, ensure the little filmmakers do not have access to your underwear drawers. Plan a family film festival where everyone sits down to watch the clips.
14. Lemonade stand. If you like your neighbors, you make the lemonade. If your neighbors bug you, let your kids make the lemonade.
15. Make dinner. Slave labor at its finest. They can tear lettuce, roll meatballs, whisk salad dressing, cut fruit, and set the table. This only works if your tolerance for boogers in your food is fairly high.
16. Do laundry. Boys like machines. Including washing machines and dryers. Don’t expect much in the folding department. Do expect flying socks. Be prepared for questions about why your panties are so HUGE.
17. Wash the car. Wet sponges + buckets of soapy water = boy heaven. Tell them it’s good practice for when they’re teenagers with rippling pecs and washboard abs. Then they can wash the car in the front yard without a shirt on to get the neighbor girls’ attention.
18. Plant a garden. Sit and sip a margarita while they rake, hoe, dig and water. Save your energy for the following month, when the garden will need weeding and the boys are nowhere to be found.
19. Do a good deed. Send them over to rake your elderly neighbor’s leaves or take in his trash cans. Just make sure you choose a neighbor who can see well enough to tell the difference between your kid and a burglar.
20. “Because I said so.” Actually, you might want to start with this one. Works every time.
This article was originally published on