It’s mind-blowing to think that when you become a parent, you have just 18 summers with your child before he or she steps out of the mini-van and into adulthood. So at the mid-summer point, it’s a great time to ask: How balanced is your child’s screen time?
Don’t panic, it’s normal for screen time to spike over the summer months, which is why kids not only know how to balance their screen time but why it’s important.
Besides impacting family time and relationships, there are other potential risks that can result from excessive screen time such as obesity, depression, technology addiction, and anxiety. Too, there are risks such as privacy, cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and predators. So, while summer brings fun, it also requires parents to be even more diligent — and creative — when it comes to helping kids achieve some degree of balance with their tech.
A Small, Powerful Step
Kids are connected. Forever. There’s no going backward. Not all changes take a huge effort. Small changes matter.
Try this one small but powerful change. Turn your phone over whenever anyone in your family enters a room or begins talking to you. The simple act of turning our screens face down and looking at the person speaking strengthened our family dynamic. Try it — you might experience some of the same results we did. The kids may stick around and talk longer. Your spouse may feel more respected. And, most importantly, you won’t miss the priceless smiles, expressions, laughter, and body language that comes with eye contact and being fully present with the people who mean the most.
Another small step is agreeing to screen free zones (this includes TV) such as the dinner table, restaurants, and during family outings. Again, this one small step might open up a fresh, fun family dynamic.
If you feel your summer slip sliding away and need to seriously pull in the tech reigns, these five tips may help.
5 Ways to Help Curb Summer Tech
- Create summer ground rules. Include your kids in this process and come up with a challenge rather than a list of rules. Ground rules for summer might look different from the rest of the year, depending on your family’s schedule. Establishing a plan for chores, exercise, reading and waking up, puts expectations in place. To keep the tech in check, consider a tech exchange. For every hour of screen time, require your child to do something else productive. Keep it fun: Set up a reward system for completed chores.
- Get intentional with time. Carving out time to be together in our tech-driven world requires intentionality. Try sitting down together and making a summer bucket list for the remainder of the summer. Try your hand at fishing, canoeing, or hiking some new trails together. Board games, crafts, puzzles, a family project are also ways to make great memories.
- Keep up with monitoring. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you can ease up on monitoring online activity goes by the wayside. Keep up with your child’s favorite apps and understand how he or she is using them. During summer especially, know the friends your kids connect with online. Review privacy and location settings. Note: Kids — especially teens — want their friends to know what they are doing and where they are at all times in hopes of finding something to do over the summer. This practice isn’t always a good idea since location-based apps can open your family up to risks.
- Consider a tech curfew. Establish a “devices off” rule starting an hour before lights out. This won’t be a favorite move, but then again, parenting well isn’t always fun. More and more studies show the physical toll excessive technology use can take on teens. Just because your child is in bed at night does not mean he or she is asleep. The ability to face time, text, watch movies, or YouTube videos can zap kids of valuable sleep.
- Maintain a balanced perspective. Kids and tech are intertwined today, which makes it nearly impossible to separate the two. Sure the risks exist, but there’s the upside of tech that brings values that echo throughout every generation: Friendship, connection, and affirmation. Checking social media and sharing one’s thoughts and life online is a regular part of growing up today. Keep this in mind as you work together to find the balance that works best for your family.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).