Summertime and the screens are easy

I am lucky enough to work from home and have a flexible work schedule, so my kids have always been stay-at-home kids in the summer. They have some daily chores and other special work to do over the summer, but in general they have a lot of free time on their hands.

When they were younger, we did lots of day trips along with regular trips to the park or pool. But now that they’re older – my youngest turned 12 last week, the older two are teens – they aren’t as interested in spending the day at a museum or heading to the splash pad. I’ve been working a lot too, and I’m not as available to take them to the mall or the movies.

All that adds up to 2019 being the Summer of Screens.Boy at computer

My youngest has a new tablet and YouTube is her drug of choice. She has an endless appetite for videos of slime making and cake decorating. My middle daughter is all about the memes on Instagram, and spends a lot of time messaging with friends as well. My oldest son can usually be found playing on his Nintendo Switch. It’s all fairly innocent, and keeping track of the actual content they are consuming isn’t too hard; thankfully, they are all three still great at telling me all about what they’ve seen and been doing online at the dinner table.

Our real problem is the sheer number of hours spent in front of a screen. We have a few rules here to try to mitigate it:

  • All kids must do at least one “job” per day – this can be a small amount of homework, a major cleanout activity, or work in the kitchen.

  • All kids must be on screens for no longer than an hour at a time; they must set a timer and respect their timer or lose future privileges.

  • All kids must spend at least an hour away from screens before screening it up for another hour.

  • Maximum of three screen hours per day.

To help with this, I have a list of “no screen” activities hanging on the wall in our house, with ideas like baking cookies, going for a bike ride, learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube, or pulling out a classic old toy and revisiting their youth. When they wander into my office complaining about being bored, I just point at the list – pick something, anything!

Despite lists and posted rules, there’s still a lot of work involved in monitoring their time and schedule, and guiding them towards no-screen alternatives – even with teens, parenting is still a full-time job. It’s been hard to juggle work with the three of them at home, and to make sure that they are actually blinking – let alone going outside – every now and again. It’s important to remember though that even as teens, they still require supervision and attention to make sure they are getting a variety of activities.

Hopefully – fingers crossed – our set of guidelines is striking the right balance. It’s so hard to know how to navigate the Screen World – every day I read scary articles about how today’s tech is creating stress in kids and making it hard for them to concentrate. A completely screen-free summer isn’t practical for us though, so we’re muddling our way through.

How do you find a balance between screen and no-screen time in the summer?

Here are some MediaSmarts resources to help give you some ideas on managing screen time: