Summer is fast approaching for many American families with children. While the school break can symbolize more opportunities for vacations, camps, pool fun, and neighborhood play, it can also mean less structure and potentially more screen time.
“I think summers have always been tough for parents because you have work and you don’t have school,” said Laura Linn Knight, author of the new book “Break Free from Reactive Parenting” and former primary school teacher.
“It’s definitely a difficult situation that parents find themselves in. How can I have my children at home and also work? And I have to keep them safe. Can I just have them outside on their bikes and unsupervised? We don’t really live in that kind of culture, and it’s a really tough place to live,” she added.
Knight, who is also a mother of two children ages 7 and 9, noted that not all recreational screen time is alike and parents have to decide what best suits their home values. Some may be beneficial for children, such as FaceTime chats with loved ones or educational game apps and shows, but it all depends on their age, content, and duration.
Create a plan
One of the ways Knight’s family is tackling this is by creating a “summer boredom plan,” one of many tools to help reduce power struggles around screen time at home. . Together, the family thinks of all the acceptable activities the children can do when they are bored and writes them on a poster stuck to the wall, called “My list of activities”.
“It’s another time to sit down with the kids and say, ‘Hey, there’s going to be times this summer when you’re going to be really bored, you know? And what can we do? “I know, sometimes we can play video games and sometimes we can watch TV. But we know it’s not good for our body and brain to do this all day. So what are the alternatives? “, explained Knight. “Let’s make a list now, and make sure we have them in place.”
American Academy of Pediatrics on screen
Between the Internet, television and video games, screens are all competing for children’s attention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that children spend an average of seven hours a day on “entertainment media,” such as televisions, computers, phones, and other electronic devices.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have fueled screen time among children. Before the pandemic, six in 10 American parents said their children spent no more than three hours on devices. In August 2020, seven out of 10 estimated their children spent at least four hours with screens – games being the most prevalent type of content overall, according to data shared by Morning Consult.
The AAP, made up of pediatricians across the United States, recommends that parents of children and teens try to put consistent limits on screens. He suggests developing personalized plans, similar to Knight’s idea, while taking into account each child’s age, health, personality and stage of development.
On its website, parents can create a “family media plan” and even calculate time during the day for physical activity, sleep and other categories.
“Not all screen time is the same. Teens are more independent, but it’s still up to parents to decide how (and how often) their teens use screens,” says KidsHealth, an education site for the parents. “Teenagers may need to spend more time online doing homework, but they may also spend a lot of time on social media, playing games, or watching TV and videos.”
Recommended screen time for children, by age
For the youngest — children under 18 months – the American Academy of Pediatrics says the use of screens should be discouraged other than video chatting with loved ones.
Parents of children 18 to 24 months old Ages who want to introduce screens are encouraged to choose “high-quality programs/apps and use them together,” the AAP says, noting that this scenario is the best way for toddlers to learn.
For children over 2 years old, media limits are “very appropriate,” according to the AAP. He recommends that parents limit screen use to 1 hour or less per day of “high quality programming”.
But during tweens and teens, when kids are sure to start spending more screen time between personal cell phones, video games, and at friends’ homes, screen time suggestions and the app can become more difficult.
In Knight’s home with elementary-age children, their family currently doesn’t allow screens on weekdays, but does allow one hour of video gaming on Saturdays and one hour on Sundays, in addition to watching a show or movie. They also often watch a Friday family movie together.
Knight noted that as children get older, using screen time has become more difficult, with friends’ households having different rules. She and her husband first came to an agreement and also used another tool, which she calls a “family values chart”, to help the family collectively discuss what they all value.
“We’re going to sit down and say, ‘What really matters to us as a family?’ Well, we care about spending time together…going on dates with friends,” she explained. “And once we know what really matters to us as a family, how do screens fit into that?”
Study: More screen time in young children linked to more reported behavior problems
“Examining our own relationship with screens”
While establishing household rules about screen time use can help, many are noting how parental screen use can play a role.
Research has suggested that parents who use a lot of screens themselves are more likely to fail when it comes to imposing similar restrictions on children.
Examples of healthy screen time might include setting aside phone-free time each day to be more “in the moment”, turning off the TV during meals, and waiting to check for a phone notification until the end of a conversation with the child is over.
“I think a lot of parents have their own addiction,” Knight said, noting how many check their phones first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed.
“How many places do we like to constantly walk around and bump into things almost because we’re looking at a screen and then our kids see that. And of course they want to do that too,” she continued. “So I think part of that is looking at our own relationship to screens and then being able to support our kids as they develop their relationship to screens.”
Tips for regulating the use of screens this summer: “It’s completely normal to be bored”
When considering screen time usage, making a realistic summer plan is all about balance, planning, and communication.
- Family conversations about screen time rules, the reasons why, and the repercussions are important — while implementing meaningful screen time into the mix.
- There are a number of apps to help parents manage screen time, such as Apple’s “Screen Time” feature that allows parents to block or limit specific apps and features on the a child’s device. Android phones also have the Google Family Link app which allows parents to set digital ground rules for young children and teens.
- Some apps are even designed for outdoor fun, such as stargazing apps like the official NASA app or SkySafari and/or outdoor treasure hunting apps like Smart Bird ID.
- Planning ahead with charts like Knight’s Activity List and Family Values Chart can also help establish a realistic summer screen plan for the family. For Knight’s son, video games can be a challenge.
“We have an open conversation and we talk about why we do things. It’s less bossy and there’s even more buy-in, if you will,” she said. “He can understand why we make the choices we make. He doesn’t always like it, but he can understand it.”
And when they don’t like it?
“I think as parents, we often fear the anger or meltdown that surrounds it, but we don’t have to,” Knight added. “It’s completely normal to be bored.”
This story was reported from Cincinnati.