Balancing your family’s media consumption over the summer

Andrea TomkinsSummer can feel very long sometimes. Heck, I’ve been there. I clearly remember the days when the kids seemed crazier than a pack of wild squirrels, leaving piles of household detritus in their wake while I followed them helplessly, longing for a hot cup of coffee and five minutes in the bathroom without someone knocking on the door.

I got through this crazy, amazing, busy, hilarious, chaotic stage of our lives knowing that my mom and grandmother did it, so I could too. And they did it without relying heavily on television, portable DVD players and iPads. I felt a need to do the same, mostly because I didn’t want my kids to grow up to be zombies with square eyeballs, but also because I wanted their childhoods to be about more than just what was presented to them on a screen.

My kids are older now, so I can look back with some clarity in regards to our summer media consumption and what worked for us in terms of identifying and maintaining some limits. And I would like to clarify that there were definitely days – many early mornings in fact – when I snoozed on the couch while the kids watched Snow White for the 100th time. It’s ok to do that of course, but I found that when we turned everything off it often resulted in closer, richer, happier moments as a family. This is what I learned:

  1. It never helps to nag. In fact, the very act of nagging may be directly proportional to any eyeball-rolling that may occur as a result. Telling kids to shut off the telly/iPad isn’t enough. Nip temptation in the bud by keeping kids occupied before they think about turning on a device. These are a few summer activities that kept my kids busy:
    • Taking regular trips to the library to borrow giant stacks of books.
    • Hosting comic book swaps between friends.
    • Stocking up on new colouring books and craft supplies.
    • Enjoying playdates and outdoor activities; both planned and unplanned. And by UNPLANNED I mean that I just opened the back door and told the kids to find something to do outside.

It really helps to think about when the most media consumption occurs, and planning activities for that same time. Do your kids watch a lot of TV in the evenings? How about going to the park instead? Or signing the kids up for swim lessons? Or digging some of your favourite board games out of the basement? Or how about making a list called “What To Do Instead of Watching TV?”

  1. Know that PVRs (Personal Video Recorders) are your friend. It is an extra expenditure on top of our cable bill but it has been worth it for us. The kids set up recordings of their favourite shows, and that’s what they are allowed to watch. That’s it. This rule prevents long periods of channel surfing and zoning out in front of the TV. As an added bonus the PVR allows us to skip commercials, which is something I really appreciate!
  2. Cutting the cable for the summer worked for us. We moved out of our home last year because it was being renovated and chose not to get cable in our temporary apartment. At first I was worried about going cable-free for five months but it turned out just fine. Somehow we all managed without it. Having no cable meant that we did more things together as a family. We took more walks, spent more time at the park, and visited with friends and family. And we watched more movies together too. It was kind of amazing.
  3. It helps to be a good role model. If I’m lounging around all day watching TV or glued to my tablet I can’t realistically expect them to give it a rest either.

Some parents also set timers for screen time. You can use any timer but there are some cool looking apps just for this purpose. They come in handy if you’re looking for a way to balance all screen time, not just the television but computer and tablet use as well. Here are two contenders I spotted recently:

  • Screen Time - Media Time Manager - 
With Screen Time, you can assign daily minute allowances for multiple children. Allowances can be set to repeat each day or accumulate based on your preferences.
Kids can also earn screen minutes and give up their minutes for other activities and rewards.
  • Game Time Limit for Parents - 1. Set the number of minutes your child can play on the iDevice, 2. Set a secret Passcode. 3. Start the timer. Easy stuff.

So what about your family? How do you manage media and stay sane? I’d love to hear how you balance your media consumption over the summer months!