That one summer we let our kids have too much screen time

So, once again, our names have been left off the nomination list for Parents of the Year.

This summer, our boys spent way too much time on their devices.

That one summer we let our kids have too much screen time

What often began as “an hour” would turn into a whole morning. On road trips, the alternating hour-on-hour-off quickly went out the car window. The encouragement to be more creative online gave way to hours of YouTube and watching other people playing Minecraft.

I mean, it wasn’t a total loss. They did swim quite a bit and played outside when it wasn’t blazing hot. We traveled to a number of places, did some mission work, saw some old friends.

But our kids aren’t crazy-scheduled in the summer, either. We don’t shuttle them from practice to tournaments to camps to enrichment summer classes and back again. Maybe they should be more involved in those things. Maybe we should force it a little more.

So, they are home a lot. And on their screens.

And if they are not on a screen, they are…brace yourself…bored.

Where did we go wrong

During the school year, we set screen time limits. On school nights, homework and any chores come first. Then they can have 30 minutes of “recreational” screen time. It wasn’t perfect, and we didn’t always enforce it, but it mostly worked.

As a technology integrator/media specialist, I’m very aware of the effects of technology on kids. I understand the increased impact it can have on kids with special struggles, like ADHD. I know what the American Pediatric Association recommends.

Yet, we just let it all sort of fall apart as the summer wore on.

I guess it’s no different from so many other things. Bedtimes, curfews, healthy eating. (Don’t try to tell me you feed your kiddos the same carefully prepared, nutritious meals in late August that you did in early June. Yeah, that’s what I thought.)

I think the difference is how frustrating it is to see our kids wasting the whole summer on their screens. We want them to get outside, to play, to explore, to experiment, to appreciate the world around them.

What now

Like so many things with parenting, we could sit around and lament all that was lost this summer and wallow in the guilt of not keeping the tech under better control, or monitoring more, or forcing them to do other things.

But we won’t. Because we’ve got some work ahead of us.

Transitioning back into the school year is challenging, isn’t it? For those of us with late-morning sleepers-in, it’s a rough acclimation back into a 5:45 am alarm clock. Packing lunches, weekly chore routines, and any number of other schedules to be re-instituted.

Now, add to that “re-establishing technology rules and expectations.”

But before you paint an image of forcefully prying devices from the fingers of your little techno-zombies, realize that this is a great time for making any changes to your expectations. Take into account that your kids are getting older and may be ready for more freedom, which they will welcome.

Child psychology tells us that kids crave boundaries to feel more secure. Though they may outwardly whine about it, most school-age kids struggle with being able to self-monitor their own tech use and need the external guidance that our expectations provide. (Really.)

So, with only a couple weeks left before school starts, here are the steps we’ll be taking to get “back on track.”

  1. My wife and I need to have a conversation about the coming school year. A “Tech Plan Date Night,” if you will. We will review what has worked well in the past, and what needs to change with where our boys are right now.
  2. We will create a rough draft of expectations for screen-time, appropriate content, cell phone use (for our teenager), physical locations of technology, etc.
  3. We will present that one night after dinner to the boys and let them voice their thoughts. If we need to, we can meet a few days later to all sign the written document.
  4. Establish a schedule for reviewing the progress of the expectations (maybe every three months?), so modifications can be made, as needed.

Sound a little too much like a corporate committee meeting? Maybe. But the see-how-it-goes method we’ve tried in the past didn’t get us too far.

What we will do differently next year

A few months before the summer hits next year, as we are going through the summer school offerings and the YMCA and parks and rec schedules, we’ll need to revisit the expectations for technology. This time, we’ll modify them for the summer and make sure we are all on the same page.

It’s not just the amount of time they spend on screens during the summer that bothered us so much, it was the battle we had to have any time we suggested they do something else. Or the drama that ensued when we did pull them off their screens. Or the boredom from which they almost died.

Hopefully, a clear summer set of expectations will prevent those tragedies next time around.

How did you spend your summer vacation?

Please tell me we are not alone in this struggle! I’d love to hear your story, and what you did to smooth out your summer. Add your comments below.

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