5 Tips for a Screen Free Summer
Generation Y moms and dads find ourselves in uncharted waters, parenting our kids through technology that simply wasn’t available to parents before us. Since the proliferation of the iPhone and other screens-for-entertainment tailored to children, kids are growing up more depressed, lonelier and unhappier than ever before. What is a concerned parent to do?
Ah, summer. Pools are splashing, UV rays are shining, YouTube is devouring hours of our kids’ precious time. . .
Generation Y moms and dads find ourselves in uncharted waters, parenting our kids through technology that simply wasn’t available to parents before us. Studies show that kids are changing because of their excessive screen usage. We don’t even know the long-term effects of screen time on kids, because this technology is so new.
“We're sort of in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' most recent guidelines for screen time. Since the proliferation of the iPhone and other screens-for-entertainment tailored to children, kids are growing up more depressed, lonelier and unhappier than ever before. This is not speculative. The proof is in the research.
But most parents can testify to the short-term effects of screen time—and the results aren’t good.
When Entertainment Isn't Worth the Tears
Recently, I noticed my kids were a little grumpy when we would end a screen time session. We wondered if the screens themselves had something to do with it. YouTube, Nintendo, Netflix—the kids loved the hour or two we would allow each day after chores and school work. But my husband and I did not love the ensuing arguments or addict-like responses when screen time ended. Those ranged from entitlement to anger and tears.
I don’t remember having this response to turning off the TV as a child. Probably because I had to watch whatever happened to be on TV. I didn’t have an unlimited menu of kid shows at my disposal. My summer mornings included The Price is Right and a bowl of cereal. Maybe I’d stick around for Little House on the Prairie. But after that, some boring show like Matlock would come on and I’d rather go play with the neighbor. Nowadays, kids could watch YouTube videos for the rest of their lives and never finish all of them.
What is a concerned parent to do?
Less Distracted, More Engaged
My husband and I decided to cut our kids off from screens completely. We said 30 days, no screens. No Netflix, Nintendo, YouTube. We told the kids at dinner one night and they cried like a family pet had died. But then we all moved on. Then next morning, they didn’t even ask because they knew it was a non-starter. We prepared ourselves for a lot more work on our end. But you know what happened? Parenting has gotten easier.
Our kids are less distracted, less grumpy, more engaged. They are finding their own solutions to boredom. They’re reading books, writing stories, working together and using their imaginations. I wish we’d cut them off sooner.
What started as a 30-day screen fast has turned into a four-month lifestyle change. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Summer is a perfect time to try a screen break for your kids.
Here are 5 tips to help your family have a screen-free Summer:
1. Set a specific time frame.
We started with 30 days. You could do two weeks or the entire summer, whatever suits your family. It’s like an elimination diet for their brains. Cut all suspected toxins out: YouTube, Netflix, Nintendo. Your kids will handle the news better if they know it’s not forever. After the time you set ends, you may choose to add selected screens back in, one at a time. (For example, after the initial 30 days, we brought in a family movie night. This, we felt, was a good use for screens. We have not brought YouTube, Netflix, Nintendo back into the daily mix.)
2. Go cold turkey.
I can’t emphasize this enough. The magic is in the full removal. Mentally, the kids crossed out screens as a recreational option, so they were forced to get creative and solve their own problems. We’ve seen where their imaginations take them, and where their interests light up when they aren’t numbed out on screens. My eight-year-old has taken up art. He checks out library books that teach him how to draw. Artwork covers his walls. He wouldn’t have the time or determination to hone this interest if screens were an option.
3. Realize the library is your friend.
Once you’ve begun the screen fast, your kids’ interests and talents will become much clearer to see. My nine-year-old daughter reads more books than we can keep up with. Even my three year-olds (who can’t yet read) love cozying up with a stack of board books. When my kids ask one of the millions of questions they ask in a day, “What causes earthquakes?” “What’s the tallest mountain?” “Who was Sacajawea?” We head to the non-fiction kids’ section and they explore to their heart’s and minds’ content.
4. Make a plan for when your kids complain of boredom.
This was very simple in our house. If our kids complain about being bored, I help them brainstorm a few ideas, and then if they don’t like any of those and can’t think of their own, I tell them I’m happy to give them a chore. They usually find something to do pretty quickly. The kids have stopped complaining of boredom in our house.
5. Come up with a long-term plan.
We had planned to eliminate screens for only a month; instead we have completely overhauled our family’s approach to technology in recreation. After thirty days, we noticed our kids were more fun to be around, played together more cooperatively, were better at waiting in public places and were generally nicer humans. More like the sweet kids God created them to be.
But how do we implement the positive changes of screenless life, while also taking advantage of the benefits technology does offer? Here’s where we have landed: YouTube, Netflix, game consoles are no longer a part of our kids’ daily lives. We have weekly family movie nights together, we’ve also allowed for the use of screens as learning activities. For example, my kids took a computer coding class, which taught them how to use a program created by MIT which teaches kids to write computer code. Another example: My daughter’s piano teacher asked that she practice learning to read music notes on a special app. Our long-term plan is to make screens work as a tool for us, rather than becoming slaves to the screens. We are still learning and tweaking this plan as we go, but so far, the change has impacted all of our lives for the better!
I’d love to hear your own experiences with your kids taking a screen break. Did you try it? What worked? What did you discover about your kids and yourself?
You can find some specific ideas for screen-free summer activities for kids ages 2-12 at this link.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Robert Collins