A Parent’s Summer Screen Time RX - the How, Where & When Method

Summer has arrived and for many kids that means camp, swimming, road trips, late nights, lazy days and…way more time for screens. In my house my kids were onto the potential for extra ‘summer break screen time’ from day one. It sounded something like, “so…now that it’s summer…(insert long pause, batting of eyelashes and cheeky grin here) can we have screen time in the morning? what about before bed? can we add more time? PLEEEEEASE??? IT’S SUMMER!!!!!”

I get where they’re coming from. Summer means more freedom, less school work and more fun. But I certainly don’t want to throw all the family rules out the window and during the school year our screen time limit keeps things running pretty smoothly. So how do I maintain our family rules and values around device use while still allowing them a summertime “win?” If you’re like most parents, you may find yourself struggling to stick to the usual device use plan once summer arrives, so I thought I’d share my How, When & Where method of managing summer screen use - a way to be less strict about time without completely losing the reigns. While most of this applies best to kids who are not yet teens, some of these ideas are worth discussing with your older child too and could lead to some great conversation.

Before diving in, let’s take a moment to do a quick personal inventory and find out what your absolute limit is in terms of comfort with screen time. This limit will be different for everyone; some may say one hour is enough, others will say two and still some will want to stick with half hour or less - whatever you’re comfortable with, just make sure you’re clear about it. For myself, I allow my boys ( 6 & 8 yrs old) half hour of device use during the school year after homework and chores are taken care of. But over the summer I feel like I might be willing to stretch to 45 min since they are spending most of their days playing outdoors and being creative for 6 hours. Once screen time goes past one hour or so (with the exception of a movie night) my kids start to show signs of irritability, so knowing this, I can now figure out a summer plan that gives them little more leeway, but doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable about my parenting decisions.

First thing you’ll want to consider is HOW your kids will be using their devices. Not all screen use is created equal. A useful metaphor to use for thinking about screen use (that kids can understand too) is food. There’s food that’s really good for you, junk food that can be fun in spurts (but you wouldn’t want to eat it for every meal) and food that’s fine - not great, not terrible, just filling. So, back to this summer... will the kids be using their screens to play games on iPads? console video games? chatting with friends? scrolling Instagram? making movies? learning to write code on a computer? An hour writing code is not the same as an hour mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and trying to up your “likes,” right?

So as a parent,  If I’m going to be more flexible with how much time my kids get then I’m going to make sure that at least some of that extra time goes towards something “nutritious!” Maybe I can try to use summer to research some cool new games for them or introduce them to the idea of creating something like a podcast, a movie, comic books or a blog. There are also great sites that teach kids amazing creative skills, the most popular being JAM, but others exist (even some great tutorials on Youtube). Tap into what your kid is interested in this summer and find some great ways to support and enhance that interest with tech.

Next I’ll think about WHERE my kids can use their screens. Again, limiting the locations that screens are allowed in by default limits the amount of time used. Once you decide which locations are off limits set clear boundaries and then stick to them.

Here are some suggestions  - lose the screens in:

  • at meals

  • when we’re spending time out in nature (my only caveat here would be if you’ve created a great project that entails taking photographs, videos or audio out in nature)

  • family outings or gatherings

  • on playdates (unless it’s for super fun collaborative games or projects)

Lastly, I’ll set some guidelines for WHEN in the day I feel comfortable letting my kids use devices. During the year my kids are not allowed to use any type of screen on school day mornings. In the summer I’ve given them the choice of morning or afternoon as long as they get their chores done and balance the day with plenty of other activities. I still don’t allow screens for the hour before bed because I feel it makes it harder for them to wind down. You may find that mornings are super hectic for your family over the summer. In this case I would ban that time because motivating kids to get up and going when they’re transitioning back to real life from screen land can be a real chore. Conversely, maybe summer mornings are the chill time at home and a perfect window for a little screen time with no need to rush.

One thing my family will be trying this summer is a week long vacation without screens. Yikes! I know, it’s hard to imagine. I’m really looking forward to the challenge though. Most kids, while they may protest hard for the first couple of days, will settle in easily to the new routine and may even admit to enjoying the time away from being plugged in. If a week long vacation isn’t in the cards for your family, maybe a weekend away or even a screen free day once a week would be an interesting challenge that you can all take part in.

So, to sum up - your summer screen time RX: a little less strict on the time limits, a little more curious about the nutritious goodies that the digital world has to offer and a whole lot less stress about whether you’re being a good enough parent to your digital native. Just the fact that you took the time to read this means you’re doing great - now go out and enjoy your summer !

repost - originally published June 2018