Summer is upon us! Baseball and bike rides. Swimming and scooters. Shooting hoops and hide and seek with neighbors. Ice cream, sun tea and watermelon! IPads and videos games! Wait…WHAT??
Some parents are singing praises and hallelujahs due to freedom from homework and school responsibilities. Other parents are lamenting the lack of schedule and routine those very things bring. But one thing nearly all parents seem to agree on is the challenge and difficulty managing their children’s technology use presents. Let’s be honest. Trying to set and maintain boundaries around use of technology can set off World War 3 in some homes. And the battle only intensifies when there is more free time for a young one to manage. The dangers of too much tech are bigger and go beyond an inactive child laying about the house. Too much tech negatively impacts mood, brain development, and social skill development just to name a few. (For more information on how technology impacts children and teenagers, click here. And to watch my talk on Discipleship in the Digital World, click here.)
So before summer begins to slip away, here are some tips and tricks for setting up success in managing technology in the home with children.
First of all, it is right and reasonable to set limits. Technology is a privilege. It is not abusive to take it away or to limit it in any way. I’ve frequently had parents express sadness and dismay at the constant battles they have with children over technology. Parents grow weary of always being the “bad guy” who says no to requests to play video games or watch videos on the iPad.
But fighting the constant battles and being willing to continue to say no may be the most loving thing you do as a parent.
So don’t be afraid to set limits (even with teenagers) and to stick to them! Keeping the wireless router in a locked room and frequently changing wireless and device passwords are two ways to make managing tech usage more manageable.
Second, make screen time something that must be earned each day instead of an expectation of every day. Although the relaxed schedule of summer is often a welcomed relief from the rigidity of the school year, children still need routine. Develop a daily schedule that must be followed and expectations that must be met before any technology time is earned. Below is an example:
Daily Routine Before Tech:
- Get dressed and ready for the day.
- Make bed, eat breakfast, and complete your daily chore.
- Be creative for 20 minutes (draw, build with legos, play pretend).
- Read or practice math facts for 20 minutes.
- Play outside for an hour.
Completing the routine does not need to guarantee tech time. Remember, it is still a privilege and not a right! It is also possible to allow children to earn additional screen time by being completing additional chores or being helpful or kind to a family member. For teenagers, I recommend their daily routine (which may also include getting dressed, completing a chore, and being active in some way) be completed before they earn their cell phone for the day.
Third, only allow technology to be utilized for 30-40 minutes at a time before switching to a non-tech activity. Even if a child has earned 60 minutes of screen time, break it up to prevent addictive tendencies. This is obviously not possible with teenagers who have their own cellphone, but their use can still be monitored and managed based on when they are allowed to have access to their phone. Most children are on screens much more than what is recommended. Research has shown the average screen time per day for 5 year olds is approximately 4.5 hours and the average for children 6-18 years old is over 8 hours. Below are the American Pediatric Association daily recommendations for screen time, which are well below those averages.
- 0-2 years old – no screen time
- 3-5 years old – 1 hour per day
- 6-12 years old – 90 minutes per day
- 13-18 years old – 2 hours per day
Fourth, invite children into high interest non-tech activities. While I do not want parents to feel any unnecessary pressure to be an activities director (kids really should be encouraged to find their own fun whenever they complain of boredom), it is often helpful to create several fun family activities per week that pique a child’s interest. Don’t overthink this! A family bike ride to go get ice cream treats.
Inviting the children to help make dinner. Turning on the sprinkler and running through it with them.
Joining them in a special craft project. Taking the time to teach them a new age-appropriate skill such as sewing or learning how to care for the garden or help with a household project. More often than not, children long to have their parents’ attention and will take it in any form.
Fifth, establish “tech free times and zones” in your home. Growing up my family had a “no tv” day each week and although I HATED it, I knew it was good for me. For one thing, it introduced me to the concept of fasting and I once heard the saying, “Anything you cannot fast from owns and controls you.” We need to exercise self-control and practice fasting from anything that has the potential to own and control us, and that certainly includes our various technologies! So while I strongly recommend instituting a tech free day per week, at minimum there should be places and times within your family’s daily and weekly rhythm that are restricted from technology.
For example, meal times should be free of all technology. It is also recommended that any screen time ends at least one hour before bed and not begin until at least one hour after waking in the morning. Sometimes meal times are not as regular during the summer and so explore what will work best for your family. Perhaps “tech free time” consists of the hour immediately following all family members returning home at the end of the day. Perhaps Sunday morning, including church through Sunday lunch is tech free. Children’s bedrooms should always be tech free zones, especially for teenagers. Cellphones, laptops, and tablets should be turned over to parents prior to going to bed and should not be in a teen’s room at night.
Finally, be prepared to model the relationship with technology you are wanting to foster in your children. Remind your children (and yourself) that the rules are not because you are “anti-technology” but because you love them, value relationship with them, and want what is best for them. This is especially important when developing boundaries with teenage children. They want and deserve to know the why behind all of the rules. If the dinner table is a “tech free zone” be sure you abide by this rule as well!
What other tips and tricks have you discovered work for limiting screentime in the summer? The most important thing parents and adults can do regarding technology use and children is simply share with and support one another!