First, can we all just take a moment to appreciate what we have been through AND what we are still living through? Parenting before was really, really hard. Right now…. Well, I don’t even think I could adequately put it into words.
But we can’t give up. Digital wellness becomes more and more important every single day. The amount of time kids are spending online is inching upward and nearing 9 hours per day. It’s hard to disagree - our kids need less screens and more experiences in real life.
Let's turn devices off and TURN LIFE ON instead!
We have a chance to use this summer to reset, to develop healthier habits, to put screens away and do something else. And we are here to help with two easy steps.
Many of our kids are coming off months of online distance learning, online socializing, and online entertainment. They need a break and a reset. Screens are so good at keeping us busy, that we forget how to keep ourselves busy. Kids need to learn this skill. And with summer camps mostly cancelled, there's no better time than now.
Talk about why balance is important. Tell kids, "I want you to learn to live in the real world. And that takes lots of practice." What's hard at first will get easier with time. So don't be afraid to say no. Trust us! We all survived summers without devices.
Change passwords and keep them private so kids can’t gain access to devices without permission from you (for elementary and early middle school). For high schoolers, discourage hours of scrolling, alone, in their rooms. Require that all devices stay on the first floor.
Prioritize Screen Use. Think communicating with friends, required summer school work and family movie nights. Otherwise, get kids outside or reading books or playing board games. Summers are about friends and exploring the world OFFLINE.
Praise kids for keeping themselves busy OFF screens.
Tally points and let kids trade them in for family movie nights, treats, special outings, etc. (stuff you would probably do anyway).
Now that you’ve taken screens away, you need to figure out a way to keep kids busy so they won’t be hounding you all. day. long. BEING BORED IS OK! Bored kids are more likely to pickup a book and start reading without you nagging them. In addition, being bored is essential to the development of many skills, including independence, interpersonal relationship and communication, creativity, self-reliance, coping, tolerance for discomfort, and resilience. Kids need to learn how to figure it out and follow through on their own. Building these skills this summer will help them (and you) this fall.
Create a list of required and/or suggested tasks. Think self-care (dressing, brushing teeth, eating), chores (making beds, cleaning rooms, unloading the dishwasher, sweeping, watering plants, you can even give kids a choice), academics (reading, writing, math), creativity (baking, drawing, building) and time outside (riding bikes, taking walks, exploring the neighborhood or the woods). You can print our family lists here, here and here.
Learn how to prepare yourself, your kids and your environment for screen-free fun this summer.
Read this Washington Post article about building independence this summer.
For high schoolers, brainstorm a list of activities or experiences they are interested in. Think about things they missed or enjoyed during their time at home. Encourage safe social interactions but be aware that these may cause anxiety for some kids who haven’t seen their peers face-to-face in months. Encourage them anyway. It's easier to communicate online but doing so in person builds important conversation skills and resiliency, and is more enriching.
Praise kids for keeping themselves busy for extended periods of time.
You CAN reduce your kids’ screen time AND help them build important skills this summer. You don’t need to implement all of these suggestions. Just one or two will help. The goal here is to develop the healthy habit of turning to the real world instead of the online world to fill time. Celebrate small successes - less screen time, independent follow through on a task, reading quietly for 20 minutes. It will be hard in the beginning but will get easier over time. Stay strong. You got this!