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Worried that Screens Will Eat Your Summer Vacation?

When we see our kids using screens more than we’d like, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or assume the worst. But these days, kids can use devices for almost everything, so what might look like mindless scrolling or binge-watching could actually be a Youtube video about pollinators, a group chat with their cousins planning to meet up, or designing a roller coaster track using basic physics.

As we put together our plans for summer screentime, let’s remember that not all screentime is created equal.

Connecting with friends and family

Our kids want and need to stay in touch with friends when school is out for the summer. Tech-based communication like Zoom, Google Meet, Facetime, and Whatsapp makes staying in touch with far flung family members easier, too.

Passive use vs. Interactive use

Is your kid interacting and engaging with apps and tools they use – building worlds, playing games, designing characters? Or is it passive – simply scrolling, “liking,” or watching?

Creating vs. Consuming

Is this screen time that encourages creation – editing videos, recording songs, writing a play, drawing a comic? Or are they just consuming other people’s content?

Learning new things

Sometimes passive consumption is educational – TikTok has become a surprisingly educational platform! If your kid is currently fascinated by a specific topic, screen time can be a great educational opportunity. Do check in with them about what they are learning and have them show you the videos and channels they are watching.

Reduce screen use conflict by scheduling “Pro-tech Days”

Our kids are less likely to argue about screen use if they know what to expect.

If they know they’ve got a week of less-restricted screen use coming at the end of the month, they probably won’t spend quite as much time begging to turn on the video game console at the beginning of the month.

So take out the calendar and look at the rest of the summer. Are there any sections of time that really lend themselves to unrestricted or less restricted screen use?

If you’re working from home this summer, is there a week when you’ll need uninterrupted time for a big project? Giving your child more screen time that week will make things much easier for you. Or maybe your family has a show that you love that you’ll miss when you travel and you can plan to watch all your missed episodes the weekend after you get back. Promising not to watch a shared show while your child is in overnight camp will also earn you some goodwill.

Or after a few weeks of outdoor-only, screen-free day camp, your kid may enjoy some less-restricted access to a day of Roblox.

Once you’ve identified some days that make sense, schedule these “Pro-tech Days” and make sure your kid knows when they are. Keeping your kids involved and informed will dramatically cut down on the conflict.

Schedule in “Unplugged Days” too

When you’re consulting your calendar for those “Pro-tech Days,” schedule in some Unplugged Days, too. We can all make these screen-free days more appealing to our kids by planning some truly enjoyable unplugged activities and involving them in that planning process.

Maybe don’t expect your teenage son to spend one of his Unplugged Days staring at impressionist landscape paintings at the museum with you. Unless you know that’s his jam. If you are in Chicago, maybe this cool Nick Cave show at the MCA. would be fun. Or some live music in the park. Or a trip to a beach with the super soakers and some friends.

Alongside your kid, brainstorm ways to spend these Unplugged Days that won’t feel deprivational or boring. 1000 Hours Outside is one of my favorite resources for screen-free ideas.

Download apps that encourage more creative screen time

Counterintuitive as it sounds, we can encourage more creative screen use by downloading more apps. If your kid is mostly using screens for passive consumption, think about their hobbies and interests and try to help them find interactive, creative apps that support those interests.

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in music
TuneTrain
GarageBand
Virtual Drumming

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in science
Nasa App
Sky View App
Weather App

Apps, games, and software for kids who are interested in art and design
Drawing Pad
Fashion Design Sketches
Skyscraper App

You can also work on taking things in the the other direction–moving from on screen to off. If your tween or teen is watching cooking shows, they can make brunch and snacks! Or dinner every Thursday.

If your kid is watching home organizing TikTok videos (why, oh why won’t my kid watch those?) Encourage them to organize the bathroom. Or pick a project they are excited about. They can always make a stop motion animation or take before and after pictures if that makes it more fun!

“What are the fun summer things we need to make sure we do this year?”

Include kids in the planning process:

In general: plan and be intentional – it’ll take a bit of effort, but it’ll make summer more fun for EVERYONE.

Is there a place you’ve heard about that you want to visit?

Are there friends you want to go camping with?

Do you want to learn a new skill?

 Do you want to try a first sleepover with friends or grandparents without the pressures of the school year?

Can teens with a learner’s permit or a new license help with driving on a family road trip?

Find ways to access “novelty” outside of your phone

Finally, we can look for way to find novely offline. For the last 2.5 years, most of us have found novelty almost exclusively through our screens – new Netflix shows, new phone games, new TikTok accounts to follow. And for many of us, the sense of novelty has kept us going through this long, monotonous pandemic.

But as things open back up and we start to rebalance our lives and venture into the world, we can find novelty in a new playground, a new ice-cream flavor, or a new skill. I just took a rowing class. In a real boat. Rowing is hard. It turns out, there is a LOT of upper body strength involved…starting with carrying the boat down to the river. But it was new and exciting, and even though I am still sore…I also feel rejuvenated by having tried something new. If you try something new this summer, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Photo credit: pexels-jessica-lewis-creative-4200824 

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Feels Like Groundhog Day. Again.

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I don’t know about you, but I am having a Groundhog Day kind of feeling. Our family watched the movie again over winter break. A winter break where we canceled almost as many plans as we made.

We had hoped to go to Spain but then decided we didn’t want to risk travel bans, so we planned an exciting trip to…New York City. COVID numbers were low and we haven’t been there in way too long.

As the date grew closer, even our family and friends in New York who really wanted to see us suggested that it might be better to wait. In the end, we went to nearby Morton Arboretum and walked among the winter trees and epic sculptures, appreciating the squirrels. We went to the library and stocked up on graphic novels and DVDs. We hiked in the forest preserve. We played Catan and Risk. And we watched a LOT of movies. Including some classics. Like His Girl Friday, which we all enjoyed. And of course, Groundhog Day.

Do you remember the movie? Sometimes, I feel like I am stepping off the curb into icy slush, again and again. If your family hasn’t seen Groundhog Day, add it to your “Omicron/Staying Home Again” movie queue…

Seriously, whether you are staying home AGAIN, or you never stopped, this is starting to feel like a big chunk of our lives and our kids’ lives. If you are having a lot of feelings about that, I’m right here with you.

We’ve been to one in-person Bar Mitzvah during this pandemic and I almost cried watching the (masked, of course) kids doing the limbo and dancing to the live Klezmer band. It felt so right and so sweet. Shortly after that, all the upcoming planned B-Mitzvah celebrations moved back to zoom. The kids are resilient. A zoom B-Mitzvah can be a beautiful thing. But I still feel sad and disappointed for these families that planned so much, for the young people who have worked so hard, and for all of these kids sitting through week after week of two-hour zooms instead of joyful, in-person celebrations. This is really, really hard.

So, I’m sharing a couple of resources that I hope can help a little, as well as my solidarity. You are not alone.

Support for Getting Through This Time

My friend Phyllis Fagell has some great tips for 5 ways adults can boost kids’ well-being — and their own— as schools return from break in a Covid surge this week. I love that she reminds us that self-care is NOT selfish, it actually helps us to be better parents and educators.

She also reminds us “Don’t be afraid to cope out loud. Let your child hear you stay hopeful even if the first thing you try is ineffective.”

Feeling like you can’t stop scrolling the news right now? Having a hard time watching other people’s vacations after canceling your own (that was me.) I spoke with the Wall Street Journal about how to unhook from your phone, especially if you are doomscrolling or if social media is taking you away from things you really want to do. Like engaging with your family. Or reading a good book.

Can’t get to WSJ because of the paywall? I’ve summarized my advice on Instagram. My favorite tip is silencing ALL the bings and tings. I really don’t need a jarring ping to let me know the moment a text comes in.

And if you are back in remote school like we are, here are my remote school survival tips in case you took them off your fridge.

Favorite tip: Post a handy cheat sheet of all the logins and passwords by the student’s work station and in the photos on parents’ phones.

What else is helping us get through this time? Nature. I am teaching myself to cross country ski. Since I learned from Youtube, I’m not that good. Yet. But it is OK. When I was interviewing kids and teens for Screenwise, kids told me that they learn a lot of new skills from Youtube. Giving it a try as a middle-aged learner has been an adventure.

Art is also getting me through. Our very own art. Even though we moved this summer, we hadn’t gotten around to hanging our art yet. We have a LOT of art and it was all sitting in boxes. Hanging the art made space for a remote school “office” for our 7th grader, AND it brought our old friends back into our lives. We spent the last two weeks framing and arranging old and new artwork and it feels so good to see our favorite pieces on the walls again. This street art bird (below the PS) went up in my office and is keeping an eye on me as I write my new book on Growing Up in Public.

Finally, our gratitude is helping. It can be hard to tune into that channel right now. But today I drove my kid to school in 10 degree weather. Volunteers and staff were waiting outside to administer drive-through COVID tests to see if our district can return to in-person learning. These folks are outside in the frigid wind from 7am to 3pm today, trying to make it safer for the kids to go back to school. We could not thank them enough.

I hope you and your family are staying safe, even with the curveball of this latest wave of the pandemic.

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Digital Wellbeing for Teens Devorah in conversation with Rosalind Wiseman

In this live conversation, parenting experts Devorah Heitner and Rosalind Wiseman will discuss how to help kids navigate ALL. THE. SCREENS. How can we help them find the balance with tech when so many other options have been taken away? How can we help them navigate friendship drama and conflict online and offline that may come up during this time? July 16, 6pm EST, 5pm CST, 4pm MST, 3pm PST 12pm HST

Moderated by Susan Borison at Your Teen Magazine.

During this webinar, you will learn…

  • Strategies to support your child’s wellbeing and balance technology
  • How to understand and empathize with the ways social media can be challenging right now
  • Skills to help young people understand and process the news cycle–for some kids this is an activating inspiring time, for others it can be overwhelming
  • How to help our kids deal with anxiety during this time.
  • Best practices for setting family agreements and routines around technology.
  • How to manage your reactions with your own digital use. How can we model thoughtful tech use and wisdom?

Bring your questions! We will open it up for Q&A at the end.

A recording will be sent out after.

By registering for the webinar, you agree to receive communications from Devorah Heitner, Cultures of Dignity and Your Teen Media.

Grab Your Spot!

Speakers

Devorah Heitner

An expert on young people’s relationship with digital media and technology, Dr. Devorah Heitner is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World and founder of Raising Digital Natives. Her mission is to cultivate a culture of empathy and social/emotional literacy. Dr. Heitner’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine and Education Week. She has a Ph.D. in Media/Technology & Society from Northwestern University and has taught at DePaul and Northwestern. She is delighted to be raising her own digital native.

Rosalind Wiseman

From where we learn to where we work, Rosalind Wiseman fosters civil dialogue and inspires communities to build strength, courage and purpose. She is the co-founder of Cultures of Dignity; an organization that shifts the way communities think about our physical and emotional wellbeing by working in close partnership with the experts of those communities–young people, educators, policy makers, and business and political leaders. A multiple New York Times best selling author including Queen Bees and Wannabes that was made into the movie and musical Mean Girls, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post and other publications and international speaker, she lives in Boulder Colorado with her husband and two sons.

Susan Borison

Susan Borison founded Your Teen Media in 2007 to help parents of teenagers find support and advice during the turbulent years of raising teenagers. As the mother of five, she knew those parenting teenagers was lonely and scary. Your Teen is the village that we lose as our kids get older. After practicing law followed by 15 years trying to figure out the parenting thing, Susan discovered the solution at Your Teen Media, where parents and experts share their hard earned secrets. Your Teen Media: The Advice You Trust. The Community You Need.

parenting during COVID-19

Parenting during a Pandemic: What parents need to know

parenting during COVID-19

Parents are overwhelmed. We’re all muddling through this mess together. Remember the expert on the BBC who had his toddlers crash into his on-camera moment interview? We are all that guy now.

Working from home while caring for and (theoretically) educating kids is no joke. This is an overwhelming moment for families, ours included. There have been some good times at our place: epic games of Catan, deepening our understanding of Minecraft and bike rides in the snow. We’re missing hanging out in person with Grammy, but enjoying playing Boggle via FaceTime. But it has been tough, too. There have been meltdowns over food items we’re out of, missing friends and routines and just getting on each other’s nerves. And that’s just the grownups!

I want to support families during this time, especially as we are all mentoring kids on their tech use in a completely different and uniquely challenging scenario.

I’m offering online workshops for parents covering:

  • Setting up routines and spaces at home for distance learning
  • What should the “screen time” rules be for both recreational and learning tech use during this unusual time.
    (as always quality and balance are more important than the number of minutes!)
  • How to help kids deal with anxiety during this time.
  • How to keep up with news without getting overwhelmed (and being cautious with what news kids are consuming)
  • How can social media help our kids keep in touch with friends?
  • How can parents mentor kids on social media, texting and gaming during this time.

These workshops are for:

  • companies wanting to support their employees working from home
  • school communities
  • parent/community groups

If you want to know more, let’s talk. You make an appointment here, or by email.
Let me know how I can be most helpful right now.

Here are  a  few helpful resources:

I spoke to the NYT for this article: Keeping Kids Safe on Line During COVID-19:  a Primer

Handling Your Kids Disappointment When Everything Is Cancelled– in NYT

Parenting during coronavirus: What to know about playdates, online learning and more-Washington Post

Comprehensive physical and mental health resources from the Child Mind Insitute

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Super Nanny for Screens: NPR’s LifeKit for Parents

Many families struggle with conflicts over "screentime." If you've ever wished a "Super Nanny for Screens" would come to your home, these podcast episodes could be the next best thing. I recent got invited to meet with a family who was struggling with their kids' intense devotion to their digital devices for an NPR podcast.

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