It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for teachers and lifeguards. For everyone else (parents) we have a little prep work to do to make sure the summer doesn’t lull our kids into digital comas.
Most of us have learned that given zero limits, kids will play video games, watch YouTube, send snaps, and scroll Instagram into the midnight hours. This ever-present digital lure, combined with the “summer slide,” which is the academic ground kids lose over the summer, means that most parents are hoping to make the most of the summer months need to get proactive — now.
No matter your child’s age, teaching kids to use technology in a healthy way and pick up skills and habits that will make them savvy digital citizens, becomes even more critical in the summer months. Studies show that excess screen time can lead to increased cyberbullying, low self-esteem, depression, isolation, and anxiety in children and teens. Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) has now classified a new form of addiction called “gaming disorder.” That designation means health professionals can now treat dangerous levels of video gaming as a legitimate addiction. (Yes, this is the new normal of parenting).
Warning signs of too much tech:
- Tantrums or inappropriate resistance to screen limits or refusing to let you see their devices
- Lack of sleep (which can cause anger outbursts, moodiness, fatigue, and even illness)
- Isolation and decrease in face-to-face time with friends and family
- Complaining about family outings and declining invitations to participate in activities
- Losing interest in physical activity
Tech balance in one family will look different than in another because every family has its own values, dynamic, and parenting styles. You may have to establish ground rules together and make edits over time — that’s okay, stay flexible. The important thing is to set limits and set them together, so your child feels as if he or she is part of the process and learns how and why to self-regulate over time.
Here are some tips for launching your family conversation and getting summer off to a positive, tech-healthy start.
- Discuss and agree on limits. Consider what an average day looks like. Where are the critical gaps where connection can happen? Maybe it’s transition times when you pick up your child from camp or a friend’s house. Perhaps it’s the hour after you get home from work, during meals, movie time, or in restaurants. Maybe it’s family outing such as the pool, the zoo, the theatre, roadmap time, or outdoors. Also, setting a device curfew in the summer months is more critical since kids like to take their devices to bed and keep scrolling.Discuss why and when your family should be screen-free and then put your commitment in writing in a Summer Family Media plan (every age range will require different ground rules). The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website has a fun, easy form you can fill out to create your Family Media Plan based on your child’s age.
- Pay attention to content: Setting screen limits doesn’t matter much if the content your child views isn’thealthy. A few questions to help assess content:
- Is the content age-appropriate?
- Are the apps my child uses interactive and learning-based or mind-numbing or even risky?
- Do my family’s technology habits require filtering software to help block inappropriate websites?
- Are the privacy settings on social media and gaming accounts set to restrict what strangers can see and who can send a direct message to my child?
- Jump into the fun. Part of teaching kids to understand healthy technology habits is taking the time to meet them where they are in their digital world — their favorite hangouts. When they understand you aren’t limiting screen time to punish them and that technology in itself isn’t bad, they will be more likely to see the benefits of balance and self-regulate in the future. What online games do they play? Consider watching them excel in their craft and cheering them on. Better yet, grab a controller and play along. What social media sites does your child love? Join in on Snapchat and let them teach you how to have fun with photo filters on the app.
- Be hyper intentional. Zig Ziglar once said that to a child, “love” is spelled T-I-M-E. Under the influence of today’s digital culture, nothing is assumed, and most everything requires intentionality — especially grabbing the quality time we desire. Consider sitting down as a family and creating a summer bucket list of things you’d like to do before summer ends. Maybe it’s more movie nights, more beach time, a family craft or building project, volunteer work, board games, workout time, trips, whatever — be realistic that nothing on your list will happen without serious intention.
- From monitoring to mentoring. It’s always a good idea to monitor your child’s online activities. We are big fans of filtering software and understanding what social networks and apps your kids frequent. However, because you likely have more face-to-face with your kids in the summer months, think about ways to mentor them. Talk about current events related to online safety, pay attention to their friend groups on and offline, and use this extra time to reset some digital goals that may have slipped off your radar during the school year. Some possible goals: Set up your own Snapchat account, finally learn to use Twitter, educate yourself on dangerous apps, or let your child teach you how to improve your digital skills. With this extra valuable time over the summer, you can cover some serious ground by talking more about concepts like conflict-management, empathy, resilience, self-awareness, and digital responsibility, which will all help strengthen digital skills.
In your quest to establish summer ground rules that work for your family, don’t overlook the importance of the peer-to-peer connection that technology brings. Technology is the primary channel (like it or not) kids have to build their friendships, stay the loop, and to be affirmed. They need hangout time, and that’s usually online. Keep this in mind as you work together to find the balance that works best for your family.