6 Tips to Balancing Family Connection and Fun Screen Time
Oh Delicious Summertime
Remember last summer? You started out strong with fantasies straight from your ‘80’s memories of yummy giggling connection, nourishing sunshine, fresh fruit, and dusty barefoot tree climbing. But then there were closets to sort, kids to feed, and socks to wash . . . Everybody kind of drifted off, positioning themselves in front of their screens. When you tried to chase them off they’d whine and complain and promised “just a minute.” You got tired of nagging, gave in, felt guilty, and promised to rally the next day. Rinse. Repeat. Before you knew it, the summer was gone and all there was to show for it was hours of video games, clean socks, and mommy remorse.
Confession: I’m a mom with kids that have more resolve than I do. If I don’t have an easy plan in place, they wear me down. I’ve raised them to be smart and headstrong and sometimes the inmates run the asylum. Simply put, without a solid workable plan and preplanning, our summer days get thrown together in a tumble.
Here is a quick and doable checklist to help you set a reasonable screen media balance, plan fun family activities everybody will groove on, and most importantly stick to your goals without surrendering to the summer screen sinkhole.
Stage the house for easy supervision and constrained use.
- Set up GetKidsInternetSafe (GKIS) cowork and family docking stations.
- Insist on no screens behind closed doors or in bedrooms or bathrooms.
- By cementing habit, you’ll avoid soul-killing nagging and whining, not to mention compulsive use and sneaking that can eventually lead to addiction and problematic activities like sexting or viewing online pornography.
- Think your children are too young or have better judgment than that? That’s what families in my therapy sessions thought too. Check out the GKIS Quickstart Home Kit if you’d like a powerful but fast and easy blueprint for home staging.
Batten down your cyber security measures.
Keep out tech-cooties by turning on firewalls, cybersecurity software, and educating your kids about malware, phishing, and scamming. Imagine three weeks without screen media while it’s being debugged. How’s that for motivation?
Block schedule blackout times.
By some miracle we successfully trained our inmates to respect #NoTechTuesday and #NoTechThursday during the school week this year. Honestly, I’m more shocked than anybody how easily my kids took to it. After the initial protests, T-days eventually became our best days. I looked forward to coming home to puppy trick training, goat cart pulling, outdoor forts, hide and seek, and even bone piles. Seriously, my two youngest are finally old enough to venture a bit and carefully crafted an adventure into the barranca where they giddily excavated a coyote den. Kind of gross but super educational! No humans died in the process and the pile of bleached bones became an anatomy lesson and effective props for creative horror movie making. (PS my husband says only Southern Californians use the word “barranca.” It means the undeveloped mountain-side by our house.)
Thinking ahead to long summer days, I’ve realized whole tech-free days would be too tough on everybody, especially me! So instead of being a zealot, instead I’m shooting for a balanced tech-activity day setup.
Of course, every child and family is different. I don’t recommend a strict adherence to these guidelines. In fact, we delight in media binge days and screen-free days on occasion. The goal here is for flexibility, spontaneity, and easy-going fun, not prison camp. The most workable and wise plan is to have some days with structured limits and other days where you let your family’s freak flag fly!
No screens until 7 am. Otherwise the boy creeps out earlier and earlier in the morning for eager game play. A sleepy mom makes for a nightmare of a day for everybody. Early morning walks filled with laughter with my BFF is critical for my mental health these days. I recommend.
I’ve achieved my happy life from a mix of gift, grit, and fortune. This is where teaching the grit comes in. We try to instill a good work ethic by teaching work before play.
Create a checklist that includes a daily chore and enriching academic task (a worksheet or academic game). Nothing grueling, just an opportunity to self-congratulate that between 9:00-10:00 stuff got done! Getting a little help from the kids takes the edge off of the parental servitude we all complain about.
Maybe you’re still in the sweet naptime stage, but we aren’t. Instead of relying on screen media to shut them down, 11-1:00 allows a leisurely lunch followed by yard play and a lazy read. WHAT? Academic enrichment during the summertime? Yep! Reading is one thing we insist on around here and it has served us well. Sometimes I allow a TED talk or podcast, because they seed stimulating dinnertime conversations.
If we haven’t committed to an all-day adventure, then afternoon is rejuvenating adventure time. This may be the beach, swimming, the dog park, or a hike. Other times, it’s a family project like cleaning out the chicken coop or room cleaning. If the kids are whining, I provide a choice between the two types (haha). We try to do something going that makes us laugh and gets us exercise to keep us all from being screen zombies.
What if you’re working? On workdays I rely on kid camps, trades with other moms, or I bribe the 20-somethings to take the little ones out.
We go old-fashioned everyday and eat around the table and play high-low. No screens allowed. Best part of your day (high)? Worst part of your day (low)?
Ah sweet connection. This is also where we throw in sex-tech educational discussions, organic and easygoing information, often inspired by current events, weaved in with everyday chatter. GKIS FAMILY MEETING – ✔. THIS is what memories are made of, not Web Surfing, MineCraft, and social media stalking.
Implement the GetKidsInternetSafe (GKIS) Living Agreement.
This is a powerful parenting tool. A “living” agreement is a consistently negotiated, comprehensive contract that closes gaps and prevents work-arounds. Propose ideas, discuss it, and commit to guidelines.
Implementing screen-securing strategies haphazardly just doesn’t work. It’s like installing a screen door on a submarine. Implementing half-baked interventions and then panicking when something happens leads to sneaky spying and intrusive knee-jerk grounding. This is the perfect habitat for resentment and sneaking all the way around.
I’ve witnessed hundreds of times in my practice how a proactive agreement works to build parent-child cooperation and respect. With reasonable justification, even teens appreciate honesty and transparency.
At the launch of summer vacation, calendar 7 day-trip adventures.
Invite the kids to participate in the planning and entice them with maps and websites. Anticipation is almost as fun as the trip itself, and it will fuel follow-thru. Another opportunity to involve the kids in the prep-work instead of being your family’s servant.
Great ideas include new vehicles of transportation (buses, trains, boats, horses) and hikes into exotic neighborhoods (city centers, river walks, mountain strolls). My family makes serious use of the AroundMe app whenever we drive into an unfamiliar area. This transforms Sunday afternoon drives into exotic ice cream tastings or best cheeseburger competitions.
Maintain reasonable expectations. This isn’t Leave it to Beaver.
Let’s face it. None of us are perfect parents.
I cling to the concept of the good enough parent from D. W. Winnicott. He created this concept to affirm that authentic instinct drives parenting better than any expert plan. If you slip into occasional rants and screen media binges, then you’re in awesome company. You know what’s more important than having the perfect parent? Having a loving parent who is a real person.
Do you long for a blueprint that’s delivered in simple video format week by week? I’m here for you! Check out the GKIS Quickstart Home Kit and the GKIS 30 Days to Internet Safety. As the mother of a 21 year-old, I can confirm that deliciously chaotic summers fly by before you know it. Cheers to putting a little effort into planning and making this the best summer you’ve ever had!
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetYourKidsInternetSafe.
About Tracy Bennett: I am a grateful mother of three feisty kids, a psychologist, and a university professor. My passion is soaking in the beautiful chaos of my busy home and helping GetKidsInternetSafe (because I hear the inside stories why we need it)!
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