By Delaney Ruston, MD, SCREENAGERS MOVIE Filmmaker/Physician/Mom
Youth will have more time to breathe and explore their interests beyond school, but so often downtime becomes screen time. Summer’s wide open time spans can heighten battles over technology use. This is the perfect time to revisit your family rules and see what’s working and what’s not and come up with summer guidelines.
Before you start, consider using the practices “procedural justice.” Many studies have shown that even if people don’t get their way, as long as they feel respected and that they had some say in the matter, i.e. if there was procedural justice, people are much more likely to go along with rules. It is natural for kids and teens to push back against limits. That’s the normal behavior of an evolving individual. Just remember to start from a place of positivity. You want to convey to them that you really understand why they like tech time so much and that is why we need strategies to keep tech activities in balance.
Resetting is possible: So often parents ask me how to put in rules after having gotten very lax about them. You can say to your kids, “It’s summer and it is time to reset family policies.” Resets can also happen when you gain insights into new scientific data related to the benefits of non-screen time things such as sleep, helping others, exercise, outdoor play and on an on.
Modeling integrity: You want to parent with integrity in line with what you value to maximize benefits for your kids. You will want to show that even though it takes work to ensure there is not excessive screen time, you are willing to do the work because acting in line with your values is something that you care deeply about.
Expanding horizons: Ask your kids specific things they want to happen this summer that are a bit different than their usual activities. For instance, people they may want to get to know better, projects they want to start, a park they want to explore, or a new part of town they want to visit. And add some of yours, such as welcoming someone who moved into your neighborhood two months ago — yes, even two months later is still so much appreciated by people!
Put it on a calendar: Once you have defined some things you all want to do, to increase the chance of actually getting to the ideas – mark it on a calendar that is visible to all, like on the refrigerator. It is so easy to have aspirations but then when the day starts and everyone heads out or onto their own thing, the day can disappear.
Adding in healthy screen time: For some families, it works well to have a rule that says for every hour of video games that are pure adrenaline driven (think Fortnite), that there should be an equal hour of games that do things like focus more on strategy (think Civilization or prosocial games). Another swap: for every hour of Youtube video, see how they can create their own videos for an hour — how about making a video montage from home videos? Another swap is for every 2 hours of teen Netflix shows, an hour of a mind-expanding documentary like Planet Earth or a fun TED Talk such as “The Surprising Science of Happiness”.
Make a screens-on/off vacation plan: Consider guidelines about screen use during road trips, flights, and family time while you’re away on vacation together. Even if you have always allowed your kids to be on their phones in the car, it’s perfectly reasonable to change it up for a trip. Here are some family podcasts I suggest.
Fight fire with fire. The more you can have systems in place to have tech go off at defined times, the better. Here is a list of apps that can assist you once you set your rules, whether that’s a certain number of hours of screen time in a day or certain times it can or cannot be used. XBOX is known to have great controls on their gaming systems. And if you need help with why 3 hours is too much, check out this blog.
House help projects: Now is a good time to get more creative about possible “house help” projects for the summer (AKA chores, but I prefer house help) and start thinking up new tasks that will give your children new skills. Tessa has offered to make dinner two nights a week and is trying new simple recipes that she chooses. I have some stairs I want painted and other household projects that we will sit down and map out this week. I know how fast summer goes by.
Don’t give up on reading: Tessa and I are headed to the library in a few days and I can’t wait. Libraries are magical — surrounded by people reading, toddlers clenching stacks of picture books, and the featured books when you first come in… and then for your kids to pick out some books that interest them. Even if your teen just reads one or two this summer that is something! Many libraries have programs to encourage summer reading. Another idea is to organize a book club with your child and a few other families. If a family will be away when you plan to meet, see if they can Skype or Zoom for some of the discussion.
Here are a few questions to get the conversation going:
What are two things you would like to accomplish this summer?
Is there a new skill, like video editing or creating music or coding that you might be interested in learning more about?
How much time do you think is reasonable per day this summer for you to spend doing things like playing video games or scrolling through social media?
What “house help” projects can you come up with that would teach you a skill you are interested in — or at least mildly interested in? Or at least not completely dreading?