This has been no ordinary summer. Covid has shut down pools, ceased sporting events (both youth and professional) and left many kids with few entertainment options during the long break. There are still a few weeks left before school resumes (either online or in-person), and parents’ patience may be wearing thin.
Kids may be spending hours staring at their phones, tablets or the television. Video games and social media may have become the default options for keeping busy or staying connected with friends. When devices dominate the waking hours, here’s how to limit screen time during the ‘Summer of Covid.’
Create a Device Usage Contract
Like a cell phone contract, which outlines the rules for a teen having a phone, a device usage contract (or a screen time contract) can detail how often kids can spend on their phones, tablets or use their gaming consoles.
Every parent views screen time differently; some set few rules, but others only let their children spend a specified amount of time with devices. Your contract should work for your family’s values, needs and lifestyle.
Device contracts can set specific time limitations or they may include the times during the day when screen time is allowed. Parents also can detail if certain expectations must be met for kids to have screen time privileges; for example, a parent may decide that a child can only play on a device after completing chores, reading or outdoor time/physical activity.
Present Other Options
Kids—and parents, too!—may grab the tablet or phone because there are no other options for entertainment. Parents who want their kids to spend less time staring at a screen may want to schedule other activities to keep children occupied and happy.
Schedule family game time, reading time (to meet book club goals) or play outside. Go for a walk or a hike in the woods. Maybe the neighborhood or backyard pool is open, and parents can schedule pool play time.
Parents may be limited in their own time, too. Working parents might not have the time or resources to plan out recreational opportunities. Once work ends, exhaustion sets in. For working parents, providing other entertainment options can be as easy as playing a board game, reading together or even journaling together.
Don’t Have Time to Plan Each Day? Make a Weekly Schedule!
Keeping kids off the screen and involved in other ways takes creativity. When parents are in the midst of their own daily schedule, there isn’t much time to stop working and think about ways to engage children.
Plan ahead! Working parents and stay-at-home parents could benefit from making a weekly rec schedule for kids. During the weekend, plan out ideas for children to do during the weekdays and create a written calendar. Parents can incorporate outdoor activities, crafts, stories…or whatever works. Set times for each activity and then post it somewhere visible. If grandparents are watching the kids, parents could talk to them about using the schedule to keep kids engaged.
Drop the Devices during Dinner, and Cook Together Instead
Do kids grab their phones or tablets while parents are cooking dinner? Have them drop those devices and get them cooking instead! Bonus: following a recipe can help a child with reading. Give them duties that are age-appropriate, and ask them to read the recipe for you.
Kids also could hone their math skills while measuring out ingredients. Use the recipe to help them learn about fractions, too. Many kids love helping parents around the house; cooking together can be a fun bonding experience. Just remember kitchen safety!
Accept Those Devices, But Don’t Let Them Dominate
The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t have a hard and fast rule when it comes to screen time duration for older kids. Instead, the AAP advises that screen time shouldn’t get in the way of basic needs—proper sleep and physical activity—and kids should have “media free zones.” The AAP does state that: “Children should not sleep with devices in their bedrooms, including TVs, computers, and smartphones.”
Today’s kids are growing up in an online, wired world. While parents can set limitations, devices are here to stay. Many kids are provided with their own school computers, and, during the spring Covid shutdown (and in the fall, too), children learned virtually; screens were (and are) a necessity.
Set reasonable limits and expectations for kids, but understand, too, that options for recreation are limited. Parents can create rec schedules and plan out activities, but sometimes the screens may be a handy option. And while devices can seem to dominate, they are an easy way to keep in touch with friends; during this crazy time, peer-to-peer contact is limited, too. Those screens may be the difference between social connections and social isolation.