As school winds down and summer approaches, parents everywhere are gearing up for battles managing summer screen time. Summer days are unstructured compared to those during the school year and in between camps, time at the pool, vacations, and general relaxing, it can be a challenge to find a balance between unplugging and plugging in.
5 Strategies for Managing Summer Screen Time
Over the last couple weeks I’ve shared realistic strategies for managing summer screen time on local TV and radio stations that won’t leave you feeling defeated and your kids victorious. Here are some of the tips I’ve shared on-air to help you and your family manage screen time this summer.
Consider How You Manage Your Family’s Technology
Managing summer screen time is different for every family. Think about your current guidelines for screen time and how your family’s summer schedule might alter your kids’ screen time. Consider:
- What works well for your family and your pain points— Chances are you don’t notice the things that are working well but you do notice where the problem areas are. Whether it’s keeping devices charged, staying within texting and data limits, disconnecting from devices before bedtime, or just spending too much time looking at their phones rather than connecting in real life, commend your kids for the things that they’re doing well then work with them to figure out how you can be better about the areas where you struggle.
- Modeling the technology use you expect from your kids— Step back and assess how often you’re looking at your screens when your kids expect you to be present. As parents, we need to model what we expect for our kids by setting an example and looking away from our screens. Acknowledging your struggle to unplug goes a long way with your kids. They’re far more inclined to work with you on managing technology in your home when you admit your screen time faults too.
- Your screen time expectations for summer days— What will be the expectations on days where your kids are free versus those where they have camp, swim team, etc.? Will you set a loose schedule even on days where you have no plans? What’s more important- limiting the number of minutes in front of a screen per day or highlighting other priorities before screen time?
- Setting priorities, rather than monitoring minutes— “We have a plan,” my neighbor of two boys (elementary aged and soon to be middle schooler) gleefully proclaimed to me last week. “Before screens, my kids need to make sure they’ve read and exercised.” Setting such expectations are realistic and achievable for her sons. They also help ensure that the important stuff is done early in the day before screen time begins. Setting priorities for the day, instead of monitoring minutes, could be the secret to summer happiness thanks to less time spent nagging, pulling your hair out, and feeling guilty.
Helpful resource: The American Academy of Pediatric’s HealthyChildren.org’s Family Media Plan that helps families be aware of when you’re using media to achieve your purpose. HealthyChildren.org wants parents & users to think about the purposes of technology in the home and use the site as a resource to create goals & rules that align with your family’s values.
As you consider a new strategy for managing summer screen time over the summer, it’s important to seek balance. An outright ban of technology in the home can be frustrating to every member of the family.
- Finding mindful ways to balance technology is much more realistic for families and Keeping Tech in Check is an extremely helpful resource for today’s parents. Developed by Cricket Media, Keeping Tech in Check is a hub where families can find helpful tips, tools and resources to easily to go beyond the screen and find that perfect balance between technology with real world activities. Keeping Tech in Check doesn’t preach about the dangers of screen time or dictate a diet that requires families to completely unplug. The site focuses on providing articles that let us think about how we want to integrate technology into our homes without feeling guilty. It also supplies plenty of age appropriate on and off-line ideas for activities that foster your child’s interests. I love their balanced approach to screens and how they encourage us to be mindful about using them intentionally.
- Don’t Limit Your Teen’s Screen Time on the New York Times
- Even Techies Limit Their Children’s Screen Time on NPR
Know the Difference Between Active and Passive Screen Time
Part of managing summer screen time is being able to distinguish between active and passive screen time. When kids are actively engaged, they’re learning through the content on the screen whereas passive screen time is all about consumption. As parents, it’s critical that we know the difference between the two and recognize when our kids are just consuming content versus using technology as a learning tool. It’s easy to see them on a screen and harp on then to get off when really, they might be learning a useful skill.
Helpful resources: If you’re wanting to know more about the differences between active and passive screen time, these articles can help:
- Passive vs. Creative Screen Time on Tech Age Kids
- What You Need to Know About Babies, Toddlers and Screen Time on NPR
Search Out Ways Kids Can Learn Through Screens
Since not all screen time is equal, it’s up to us to help guide our kids towards age appropriate learning activities that they can do on mobile devices, tablets, and home computers. Technology can be helpful in fostering interests, developing background knowledge about a place you’re traveling to this summer, learning new skills, and preventing the dreaded summer slide through engaging interactive content but knowing where to find quality content is important.
Helpful resources: Here are some age appropriate ways kids can use technology as a learning tool this summer:
- Square Panda— Square Panda is a phonics based system designed for ages 2-8 uses teaches letters, syllables, sounds, and other reading fundamentals in fun ways thanks to smart letter manipulatives that turn your iPad in to a learning tool. The 10 learning games are engaging and provide positive feedback to keep the youngest ages motivated. With 14 levels of phonics instruction and a diagnostic engine that measures each child’s individual progress, challenges, preferences for game types, and patterns of play, Square Panda provides lots of learning for kids but useful information for parents and teachers to ensure that kids become confident fluent readers. For more information, read my past posts about Square Panda here.
- Toca Boca— Parents might not exactly understand Toca Boca but it’s clear that kids ages 5-9 love the apps and there certainly isn’t any shortage of them in the Toca universe. Kids create their own experiences through apps that are open ended and gender neutral that teach skills like creativity, collaboration, and problem solving through play. Each of the 38 apps is priced at $2.99 each but they are ad free and don’t have in-app purchases.
- YouTube Kids— If you haven’t downloaded the free YouTube Kids app, do it now! YouTube Kids is lifesaver for parents of kids ages 2-10 who are looking for just-right age appropriate videos, channels, and playlists. The easy to navigate app has a visual format that’s easy for the youngest kids to navigate and a safe experience so kids can easily find videos on topics they want to explore. YouTube Kids is available for free on Google Play and the App store in the U.S. and if you have a YouTube Red subscription ($9.99/month) your YouTube Kids content is ad-free and can be watched offline.
- Minecraft– Yes, believe it or not this imaginary brick filled building world does have benefits because it fosters creativity, critical thinking and spatial skills.
- Netflix— I’ve complied a lot of content to stream on Netflix to help keep young minds active during the summer months and beyond. Each of these posts provides age appropriate suggestions for educational content for your kids available via Netflix so click on the picture to go to the post.
Be Ok with Binging from Time to Time
Just like we want our kids to be healthy eaters and attempt to balance each meal, sometimes it’s better to look at the overall picture of the day, rather than individual meals. The same is true for our kids’ media diet and screen time. It’s ok if you find yourself abandoning your own rules for managing summer screen time.
Chances are there are some days where your kids are busy from morning until late at night and their packed day doesn’t leave a lot of time for screen time. There might be other days that are pure down time. Or perhaps they spent the whole morning out in the hot sun and need to regroup in the air conditioned comfort of your house.
Instead of thinking about the number of minutes per day your kids spend in front of a screen, consider their screen time over the course of the week. Perhaps if there was very little screen time one day, it’s ok to have more the next day. Or maybe if your child was outside with friends all morning, invite those friends in to cool off and play video games or with a movie marathon.
When managing summer screen time, it’s important to find the balance that works well for your family and embrace it. After all, we parents have enough on our plates and shouldn’t always feel guilty about screens during the summer.
I am a Netflix Stream Team Member and while I am not compensated, my family does enjoy a complimentary Netflix subscription and other items for my involvement. I am also an YouTube Parent Panel Member and on the Cricket Media Keeping Tech in Check advisory panel. Both positions are unpaid but my family receives perks for my participation.