Helping Kids Disconnect To Connect In The Summer

It’s tough to get kids off screens during the summer. Here are some tips.

If you are parent, then your kids are either out of school or wrapping up. With three boys (ages 6, 11, and 14), my wife and I share the near universal struggle that parents have these days: limiting our kids’ screen time. While summers can be a lot of fun, the challenges over the screen are not. Although there are no simple answers to difficult problems, there are certainly things we can do as parents that make a difference.

Enticing Screen Options

When I was a kid, screen entertainment didn’t offer near the variety and appeal that kids have available today. I probably got cable TV when I was in about 5th or 6th grade. Prior to that, TV options were VERY limited. I certainly watched my fair share of TV, but there weren’t many shows worth watching. Binge watching something as compelling as Lost, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or Battlestar Galactica wasn’t even a consideration.  (Personal note: There was a Battlestar Galactica back in my youth but it doesn’t hold a candle to the more recent incarnation).

Of course, our kids shouldn’t be watching Game of Thrones in the first place, but they might be tempted to binge on Teen Titans Go! 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 Roblox, Fortnite, Clash of Clans, Star Wars Battlefront, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I mean, there were only so many space invaders that we could blast on our Atari 2600s before we were ready to go on adventures in the ‘hood with our friends.

So, with so many entertainment options for kids these days, it can be quite a challenge to tear kids away from the screen. If you have a teen, it might be that they hole up in their room with their smartphone and are on Snapchat or watching YouTube. I know firsthand of these challenges as my three boys are definitely chips off the old block with regard to how strong the pull of the screen is on them. My wife and I sometimes feel that our kids would be on the screen all day during the summer if we permitted it. But let’s be honest – if we were kids growing up these days, we would be on the screens just as much as our kids are. So, we can’t place ourselves on some moral high ground.

I’m not here to vilify screens, 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, Snapchat, and YouTube have their place, they are no replacement for in-person social interaction.

Strategies for Parents

Here are a few suggestions for limiting our kids’ screen time during the summer:

  • 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 enjoyable 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. 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.
  • Do family activities together – Take your kids bowling, to putt-putt, hiking, kayaking, do family board game night…try new things! You might need to plan ahead so that you have options ready. Your kids will learn that there are many fun activities IRL (in real life). Also, we are modeling curiosity and an openness to new experiences.
  • Be a role model – We have to practice what we preach and be a positive role model for our 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. As an analogy: We can’t be eating potato chips and tell our kids to eat carrot sticks. It just doesn’t fly.
  • 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. While there is debate about how much is too much, a ballpark figure would be about 2-3 hours of recreational screen time per day.
  • Establish tech free zones – Have certain rooms/areas in the house and circumstances in which no tech is allowed.  For instance, no screens are allowed at mealtimes or in the bathroom. As a default, don’t allow screens when travelling in the car on errands and short trips.
  • One screen at a time – If you are doing a family movie night or your kids are watching a show, set a rule that other screen use is not allowed. We want our family screen time to be a shared experience. For parents, this means that we need to be off of our phones and laptops while watching a show with our family…or even when it just with our partner.

The Takeaway?

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 insufficient physical activity. Moreover, too much screen time means that other need-satisfying activities are getting displaced, such as face-to-face interactions. As parents, we need to help children learn that wondrous experiences and friendships are waiting for them off the screen. With a little help from us, we can help ensure that they are experience the best of both worlds.

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