Ah, summer – playing kickball in the street, cooling off in the pool on hot afternoons, chasing fireflies in the evenings. Wait – is this real life or just some 70s family movie I caught on Netflix? Chances are, your kids are interested in none of these things now that they are on parole from school, but instead are being held prisoner within the frame of a small, personal video screen. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Kik, GroupMe – it seems an endless list of social media apps holds your kids mesmerized for hours at a time, when you would rather they be outside socializing with real people in the real world. Add to that video games, YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and all the other OTT (Over the Top) content providers and you sometimes feel that your kids are only one skull jack away from inhabiting a completely digital world reminiscent of The Matrix.
Take the red pill and rejoin the real world, kids.
We’re not suggesting that you do anything really drastic like throwing the iPad in the ocean as you sail off into a vacation on a desert isle. What we do suggest are some easy ways to limit screen time during the summer, giving your kids a break from their isolation pods and a chance to reconnect with family and friends.
- Don’t set extreme unrealistic goals. Take away video privileges (and yes, they should be presented as that) totally, and they’ll only want them more, making it more difficult to get them onboard with the whole idea of the screen time limit. Instead, think about starting out small – maybe tracking total screen time (and that’s EVERYTHING – phone, television, computer, iPad) unfettered for a day, and then shortening it by 30 minutes each day. (And don’t be too shocked at how much screen time kids rack up in a day – teens today spend an average of 6 ½ hours a day looking at screens, and that doesn’t include school and homework.) Make tracking screen time fun – help each kid create a whiteboard with updated goals and used screen time across all outlets each day. If they feel they have a part in this program and that you are listening and using their input, they’re going to be much more willing participants.
- No going over to so-and-so’s house to sneak in Play Station time. Believe me – so-and-so is probably trying to do the same thing. Make this a shared plan with close friends – there’s strength in numbers and most parents will appreciate the support in getting their kids off the screen and into the outside.
- Monkey see – monkey do. Kids emulate what they see in their parents’ actions. If you seem tied to your phone, so will they. Set limits for yourself – maybe keep a whiteboard tracking your screen time. Instead of endlessly scrolling through Facebook in the evenings, suggest a game night with the family. Or how about an at-home movie night? Give the kids some parameters and let them do the research to find a movie the entire family can enjoy together. The kids get some screen time with a purpose, it won’t count towards their “screen budget” for the day, and the family can enjoy some quality time together. Plan to discuss the movie afterwards to extend that family time in a constructive manner.
While there is no turning back on the digital age, starting a screen time budget could serve as a jumping off point for a much-needed conversation between parents and children. And remember – Neo could only save the real world once he broke out of the virtual one.