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Getting Kids Off the Screen During the Summer

playgroundWell, we are now into summer, and I hope that yours has started out well! If you are a parent, you might be faced with the common struggle of getting your kids off the screen (in whatever format – TV, iPad, PlayStation, iPhone).

When I was a kid, screen entertainment didn’t offer near the variety and allure that kids have available today. I probably got cable TV when I was in about 5th or 6th grade. Prior to that, TV was VERY limited. I mean, I watched my fair share, but there weren’t many shows worth watching…and binge watching something as compelling as Lost, Breaking Bad, or Battlestar Galactica wasn’t even a consideration.  (Personal note: There was a Battlestar Galactica back in those days but it doesn’t hold a candle to the more recent incarnation). Of course, our kids shouldn’t be binge watching Breaking Bad in the first place, but they might be tempted to binge on Spongebob Squarepants or Phineas and Ferb. Then there are the entrancing video games that abound nowadays. The video games “back in MY day,” such as Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong,  pale in comparison to today’s games such as Minecraft, League of Legends, Star Wars Battlefront, The Legend of Zelda.

So, with so many entertainment options for kids these days, it can be quite a challenge to tear kids away from the screen. I know firsthand as I have 3 boys of my own (12, 9, almost 4). They are definitely chips off the old block, because I think they are drawn to the screen like the proverbial call of the Siren – just as I was as a kid. But, with so much variety and great content, my boys might be on the screen 24/7 if my wife and I let them.

I’m not here to vilify screen entertainment (or screen education), but I believe too much of a good thing isn’t good. We are meant to be physically active and interactive with the world around us, particularly in face-to-face social interactions. While Xbox Live, texting, and IMing have their place, they are no replacement for in-person social interaction.

So, what are some of the best ways to get kids off the screen? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Be a role model – We have to practice what you preach and be a good role model for your kids. If we are on the screen frequently, even if it is mainly for work, our kids pick up on that. Then settling limits on their screen time doesn’t hold much weight.
  2. Set time limits – Screens cannot be turned on before a certain time in the morning and must be turned off by a certain time at night. Also, it is a good idea to set a limit for how much screen time is allowed per day. I find that establishing a hard & fast limit is difficult, so my wife and I just kick our kids off the screen after about one hour during the week and two hours on weekends (typically one hour in the morning, after 9, and one hour in the afternoon, after 3).
  3. Establish tech free zones – Have certain rooms/areas in the house in which no tech is allowed (parents should abide by the established rule as well).
  4. One screen at a time – If you are doing a family movie night or your kids are watching a show, set a rule that multi-tasking is not allowed. Multitasking is mainly a myth – we task switch and don’t truly multitask (e.g., even a teen cannot write an essay about Shakespeare WHILE simultaneously texting). Okay, this isn’t exactly getting kids off the screen, but you do want their screen time to be limited to one at a time.
  5. Do family activities together – Take your kids bowling, to putt-putt, hiking, kayaking, do family board game night…whatever! Your kids will learn that fun can be experienced off the screen.
  6. Sign them up for summer camps – It’s not too late! One of the best ways to “win” the fight about screen time is to not have it in the first place. When kids are at some activity camp, they will naturally be engaged in activities that focus their attention. Hopefully, at the same time, they are learning that great fun can be had and friendships forged off the screen. You might try something like Camp Sloop to find a camp in your area. Also, talk to your kids about their interests – show them what is out there and get their input on which camp(s) they’d like to try.

I do think it is fine to allow kids to enjoy age-appropriate screen time over the summer (and throughout the year, for that matter!). However, unfettered access to the screen can cause a lot of problems, which could include diminished attention, sleep deprivation, and a lack of physical activity. Parents may need to help children learn that wondrous experiences and friendships are waiting for them outside the digital world.

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