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. Or try 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 boring or like deprivation. 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.
You can also work on taking things in 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 novelty offline. For the last 3 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.
But as we work to build new habits and start new adventures, 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.
If you feel like you don’t know HOW to bring up tough-to-discuss issues with your tween or teen, download my free SOS guides to Damage Control and Sexting. There are some sample scripts in these free downloadable guides that will help!