Screen time has become as synonymous with summer as ice cream and swimming pools. Deep down, your gut is telling you: I don’t want my kids on screens all day every day. But screens are also the supreme pacifier that can give us a much-needed break. While a 30-minute screen time limit all summer long may not seem feasible, this article explores alternative schedules and provides strategies to foster healthy tech habits.
How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
While the exact threshold for healthy screen time varies by individual, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends abstaining from screens before age two and limiting time to one hour for kids ages 2-5. Children ages six and above can have consistent limits based on their parents’ discretion. Striking a balance between screen time and other activities, such as outdoor play, reading, and social interactions, is essential to ensure holistic childhood development.
“The reality is that most families will go through periods of heavy and light screen use, but as long as there’s a balance, kids should be just fine,” says Common Sense Media. They emphasize that it’s not just the quantity of screen time that matters, but the quality.
For instance, some apps are built for outdoor fun—like the SkySafari stargazer app or Smart Bird ID scavenger hunt game. Kids can use games like ThinkRolls or Cut the Rope to problem-solve or Prodigy and ABCmouse to reinforce learnings in math and reading.
“If it’s a rainy day and the kids are going to play dance game rather than Pac-Man, great,” says Seattle Pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson—though screens shouldn’t replace playing sports with friends to build esteem, camaraderie, and sportsmanship.
Alternative Activities: Encouraging Well-rounded Experiences
As you might imagine, simply decrying and denying screen time is a recipe for failure. Instead, introduce healthy alternatives to screen time. Think of family rituals that are easy to build into the routine—like an after-dinner bike ride or board game session. Have your child learn to cook alongside you at dinner time. Work together to design a cozy corner with books and stuffed animals for morning reading sessions—and an art table for after-lunch drawing time.
Other engaging screen time alternatives include:
- Offline Summer Fun: Plan weekend hikes at various local parks, trips to the science museum or zoo, and fun group sports like roller skating, laser tag, or bowling. Put amusement parks, ice cream parlors, playground play dates, beach swims, and movie premieres on your calendar. Take a family camping trip or vacation.
- Outdoor Adventures: Encourage your child to explore nature and engage in sports activities. These experiences not only promote physical fitness but also foster curiosity and appreciation for the natural world.
- Creative Pursuits: Promote artistic expression through painting, drawing, writing, and crafting. These endeavors stimulate imagination, problem-solving skills, and fine motor development.
- Reading and Storytelling: Stress the importance of literacy by engaging in storytelling and visiting the library. Reading helps improve vocabulary, comprehension, and critical thinking abilities, while storytelling nurtures creativity and emotional intelligence.
- Community Engagement: Participate in community service or volunteer projects as a family. Engaging with the community instills empathy, social responsibility, and a sense of purpose.
- Hobbies and Interests: While your child will likely spend more times on screen during the summer, you can at least strive for moderation by balancing the digital hours with scheduled hobbies and activities. Enroll your child in swimming, karate, soccer, a musical instrument, or a summer day camp.
Additional Strategies for Parents: How To Create Healthy Tech Habits
To foster healthy tech habits, parents can implement the following strategies:
- Consider your family values. Laura Knight, a former elementary teacher and author of “Break Free from Reactive Parenting,” created a family values chart to help the family collectively discuss what they valued and how screen time fit in.
- Lead by example. Children learn from observing their parents’ behavior. Model healthy tech habits by setting aside dedicated screen-free times and spaces, prioritizing face-to-face interactions, and engaging in alternative activities.
- Establish clear rules. Set clear and consistent guidelines for screen time usage. Define specific time limits, establish tech-free zones (such as during meals or before bedtime), and discuss the reasons behind these rules to help children understand their importance.
- Make a chore-first summer routine. If you allow your children screen time the moment after they wake up, it’ll be much harder to reduce the amount of time spent using technology throughout the day. Instead, mandate that chores be done first to “earn” screen time. No chores? No TV, video games, phones, or computers that day. Try to make chore time fun by putting on an upbeat playlist, using a sticker chart, or putting out chore flash cards to foster greater independence.
- Choose time of day wisely. Many kids find “tablet time” to be relaxing. An hour of screen time can be a blessing when you’re scrambling to chop, cook, and get dinner on the table. Summer screen time should work with your family life to produce greater harmony.
- Invest in co-screen time. Research has shown that all screen time is not created equal. High-quality apps and learning together alongside your child can be good for your child’s social-emotional wellbeing. Engaging in co-viewing or co-playing activities with your child also allows for bonding, conversation, and critical media literacy discussions.
The Bottom Line:
Balancing screen time for kids over the summer is crucial for their overall well-being and healthy development. By setting reasonable limits, providing alternative activities, and implementing strategies to foster healthy tech habits, parents can create a balanced approach that allows children to enjoy their summer while cultivating a well-rounded set of skills and experiences. With mindful guidance and engagement, children can thrive in a digital world while embracing the richness of the offline world.
Want more quality summer time off-screen? Drop into the Shine Center for everyday fun.