Disconnect to reconnect
Kids love their devices, and without the structure of school and other school-year activities to distract them, it can be tempting for them to spend most of the summer glued to a screen. They may cry, “Vacation!” when you attempt to limit their access to smartphones, tablets, and computers, but it’s important to do so.
Aside from the fact that it’s impossible for children to get the daily recommended amount of physical activity they require if they’re sitting inside texting friends or playing video games all day, it’s possible that too much screen time now could affect their health later on in life. Screen time can suppress melatonin, which helps regulate sleep, the immune system and the onset of puberty; it increases the chance of coronary heart disease later on in life; it alters the chemicals related to hunger and feeling satisfied, causing people to eat more; it increases the chance of having elevated blood cholesterol later in life; and it causes the release of dopamine, possibly making it hard to concentrate and focus on non-screen-based stimuli.1
How can you limit summer screen time?
It’s not practical or reasonable to take their devices away all summer, and kids are usually pretty resistant to any sort of rules limiting usage, but there are ways to make it easier to manage for both parents and kids.
- Encourage other activities. If they know there’s an alternative form of entertainment available for them to enjoy, they may be more apt to willingly power down. Check out summer programs at your local rec or community center, see if your child is interested in joining a sports team, or gather up some fun outdoor games they can enjoy with friends in your own backyard. Check out SheKnows for some simple and affordable backyard activity ideas for kids.
- Make them earn screen time. You can set the parameters based on the age of your child, but things like completing a certain chore, being respectful, listening well, behaving politely while out in public, and helping out without being asked can earn them blocks of screen time (up to a maximum amount determined by you) to be redeemed the following day. This gives children a degree of control over how much time they actually get to spend online or in front of the TV.
- Set a timer. It’s easy to monitor 30 minutes of TV time because most children’s television shows are only 30 minutes long – there’s a definite start and end time. But it’s a little more difficult to keep track of iPad usage, for example. So if you’ve set a 30-minute limit for device usage, set a timer so your child can always see how much time they have left.
- Take ownership. At a certain time at night – and during meals or other family activities – have your children or younger teens surrender their phones and tablets to you. That way you know their sleep won’t be impacted by covert texting or surfing, and family time won’t be interrupted by incoming calls and texts. If you want to reward teens for good behavior, you can periodically allow them extra time with their phones at night.
- Watch your own screen time. Children learn by example, so if you’re asking them to limit their time online, but spending all your own free time watching TV or surfing the ‘net, it may be difficult to enforce the rules. Save the bulk of your screen time for when the kids are asleep or out of the house enjoying other activities – or find television shows and movies you can watch together as a family.
Helping your children develop healthy electronic media habits is an important part of modern day parenting. It may feel like an uphill battle sometimes, but it’s one worth fighting.
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