School is out, schedules have loosened up, and parents and kids alike are turning to phones, tablets, gaming systems, TV and movies for summer entertainment. But the experts agree that too much time spent on digital devices can hold back a child’s development. So what can Maine parents do to balance screen time with real-world summertime adventures?
- Spend a moment learning what child development experts recommend.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents avoid screen time for infants and children under two years old, and that they limit screen time for older children and teens to less than two hours per day. The AAP also encourages families to have “screen-free” zones at home.
- Make a (flexible) plan.
There are many ways to limit screen time for kids over the summer. You can set aside an hour in the afternoon as designated screen time, or issue older children a “digital allowance” of time they can spend on screens over the week. (And once they’ve spent it, they’re done!)
Your family’s plan will be as unique as your family and be customized to the age and interests of your children, but there are a few components that can make it more successful:
- AVOID AN OUTRIGHT BAN
Completely forbidding an activity can make kids crave it even more. A complete ban may be counterproductive.
- SUGGEST ALTERNATIVES
Children of any age can struggle to entertain themselves all day. If your children aren’t in summer camps or working a summer job, set up a loose schedule they can follow throughout the day. Help them identify a good mix of activities they can do with you, with friends or independently if they become bored.
- OFFER REWARDS
Consider allowing children over the age of two to watch their favorite TV show or download a new educational app or game as part of the plan. (It can be a great reward for following the rules!)
- BE FLEXIBLE
While you shouldn’t cave in every time someone whines that they are bored, there are times when bending the rules can be a good thing. When it rains on the picnic, your flight is delayed or your car is stuck on traffic in Route One, some unexpected screen time can be a lifesaver for everyone.
- AVOID AN OUTRIGHT BAN
- Schedule a family meeting to share the plan.
When children understand exactly what is expected of them, they have an easier time meeting those expectations. Sit down with your kids and explain what the limits are and why. Answer their questions and listen to their concerns, and help brainstorm solutions. (Can they play video games at a friend’s house? How can they stay in touch with friends without texting all day?) Be clear and be firm.
- Send everyone outside every chance you get.
When a child asks for more screen time, slather them in sunscreen and send them outdoors. Maine is at its best in the summer, and you don’t want them to miss a moment. Whether you jump in the lake, weed the garden or play catch in the backyard, time outdoors encourages exercise, lengthens attention spans and elevates moods.
- Prioritize healthy sleep.
When you tuck your kids in, take away their screens. Tweens and teens in particular are prone to letting screens keep them up late, and healthy sleep is critical for their health and well being. Designating bedrooms as screen-free zones is a smart strategy in the summer (and all year long).
- Set a good example.
Summer is a wonderful opportunity for adults to set screen limits, too! If you reach for your phone when you are bored at the beach or the playground, your kids will notice. If your kids are home with you (or if you are all on vacation together), quiet your phone and focus on quality time together.
How is your family managing screen time during the summertime? Let us know in the comments!