How Parents Can Help Kids Reduce Screen Time This Summer
Many parents worry that their children are spending too much time on screens, whether it’s television, laptops, video games, iPads, or smartphones. And they have reason to be concerned. Earlier this year the World Health Organization classified an addiction to video games as an official disorder. Meanwhile, even the people at Apple recognized we’re all spending too much time on our phones, so they created a new Screen Time function to help us track the problem.
While not all screen time is bad—especially for students who attend online school and use technology to learn and engage—it can sometimes get out of hand. This is especially true in summer months when kids have more free time.
Here are a few ways you can help your child cut down on screen time this summer and all year long:
Let your child be bored.
Parents may be hesitant to shut down screens because of the “I’m bored!” whining that will likely follow. But when parents hold firm, the whining will eventually be replaced by sounds of chairs being moved to build a blanket fort, the scratching of a pencil on paper as a short story is written, or the sound of a ball bouncing on the sidewalk.
“It’s our responsibility as parents to build the skills of imagination and creativity. The way we do it, in large part, is by giving these skills (that are in seed form when our children are young) the chance to play, evolve, do their work, and become. Boredom is water for these seeds. When we’re supplying all the goods for our kids’ attention, we’re actually encouraging our children’s imaginations and creative capacities to atrophy and die,” explains Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist and author of The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World.
Letting your child find his or her own screen-free activities is a great way to help develop self-sufficiency and creativity. But it doesn’t hurt to offer a few suggestions.
Depending on your child’s age, fun ideas include bug collecting, running through a sprinkler, chilling on the couch with a good book, mowing lawns for money, visiting a pick-your-own farm, and going on a bike ride. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has a huge list of screen-free ideas that is sure to contain at least a few things your child would enjoy. For more fun educational activities, check out these learning resources.
Parents of online school students have many extra opportunities to get their kids involved in real-life activities—even during the school year—thanks to the scheduling flexibility they gain. Learn how this additional flexibility can benefit children with a variety of interests.
Model good behavior.
Many parents are just as addicted to screens as their kids are. In fact, a study by Common Sense Media found that adults spend nearly eight hours a day on a screen—not including work-related screen time.
While it’s nearly impossible these days to sever all ties to work during what is supposed to be family time (often there’s a deadline looming or a colleague’s email that must be returned), don’t let yourself go down the rabbit hole. Answer the email and then unplug. Don’t check Facebook or Instagram, don’t click on that funny link, don’t google that random question in your head. Because before you know it, those quality family hours will have disappeared. And what’s worse, you’ve just taught your child that ignoring human interaction in favor of a screen is the norm.
Log screen time.
Just as people who are trying to lose weight often find it helpful to track food intake (it turns out that a handful of this and a bite of that can really add up!), those who are trying to cut down on screen time find it helpful to track their smartphone, computer, TV, and video game usage. The National Institutes of Health recommend fewer than two hours of screen time per day per person, not including what’s needed for work or school, and has created this downloadable chart to make screen time easy to track.
Install an app.
If the battles over smartphone usage become overwhelming, you might consider enlisting the help of an app such as unGlue or OurPact that helps kids monitor their usage and allows parents to turn off certain functions and see what their kids are doing on their phones. Keep in mind, however, that YouTube is filled with kid-created tutorials on how to bypass parental controls, which could render some of these apps ineffective. Additionally, some experts warn that monitoring kids’ behavior—especially without telling them first—can violate trust and have long-term negative consequences.
It may take some experimentation, but with a little effort, you could soon see your child having lots of screen-free summer fun.