The sun is bright outside and the kids are out of school for summer vacation. Rather than hearing the yelling of kids playing outside, it is eerily quiet. As the father goes back inside to finish some chores around the house, he notices that all three of his children are looking at the screens on their various electronic devices.
One child is texting to friends on her iPod. Another is locked into Minecraft on the computer and a third child is watching Netflix on the iPad. The father starts to say something but figures the kids have had a long school year and deserve a bit of a break.
Everyone deserves a break from the hectic schedule of the school year and the summer allows some time to relax. The question then becomes how much relaxation time should be devoted to screentime and using electronic devices. It is hard to blame kids for spending as much time as they can with these devices. By their very design, electronic devices provide constant stimulation and pleasure for kids. When they get bored with one game, they simply can switch to another activity on the same device. However, unfettered access to these devices is not good for kids.
Parents are particularly challenged in limiting kids’ use of electronic devices during the summer. The need to prepare for school and completing various tasks and assignments make it easier for parents to set limits on kids’ screentime during the school year. Summer has fewer demands on kids’ time, meaning there are fewer reasons to set limits. However, that does not mean parents should give up trying to establish some limits.
The trick is to get kids to limit their own screentime by offering other appealing options during the summer. One way parents can accomplish this is finding out what their kids like to do when playing on their electronic devices. If a child is into Minecraft, encourage him to read some Minecraft books or go to a camp that encourages computer coding. If another child likes to text a lot, try to encourage her to set up times that she can see her friends in person.
Another way of limiting kids’ screentime is for parents to model their own limit-setting. This means going on a family walk after dinner rather than sitting down and watching TV. It can also mean playing a board game in the late afternoon with the kids or reading a book. Kids will model what they see their parents doing.
A final way of limiting screentime during the summer is to have a screentime conversation with the kids at the beginning of the summer break. Parents can discuss with the kids about how much screentime they think is appropriate in a given day. That can serve as a starting point for a deeper discussion of what screentime provides and what it lacks. Parents can also use this discussion by bringing up other activities that the kids might want to do beyond having screentime. This early discussion of screentime limits will make everyone’s summer more enjoyable and ensure that the kids actually see the sun during their summer breaks.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on July 4, 2015