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How to Establish Appropriate Screen Time Boundaries this Summer Vacation

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We address the challenge of how to Establish Appropriate Screen Time Boundaries this Summer Vacation with school out and kids at home.

Summertime is here, and for many of us, we envision our families spending lazy days by the poolside or lounging in the grass under the shade of a big tree watching the clouds pass by overhead.

Unfortunately, those idyllic vacation ideas seldom occur in many of our households today.

Instead of days full of baseballs, sunblocks, grass stains, and catching fireflies, our summers suddenly take on a whole different vibe.

Suddenly, we hear our kids complaining that it is too hot outside, there are too many bugs, and there is nothing fun to do in the backyard.

Our sons and daughters clamor for anything digital, begging us day in and day out to allow them to play, text, or watch their favorite digital devices.

While visions of days outside fill our heads, our children often have other plans involving power cords or some sort of technology.

They just want to log onto their tablets, gaming systems, cell phones, computers, and smart televisions.

From the comfort of our homes, they can connect with friends, gaming buddies, and access a variety of media that holds their interests.

Unfortunately, all of this technology can expose our boys and girls to a variety of dangers that can quickly derail our summer vacations if it’s use is not kept in check and if we don’t start a device or phone monitoring strategy to keep them safe.

young girl on couch watching mobile device during established screen time


The Need for Digital Boundaries Over Summer Vacation

It’s no secret that our children love technology, but it is a little unnerving when we consider the fact that our kids spend an average of 9 hours consuming media every day.

Yes, 9 hours! For many of us, that number suddenly puts our son’s and daughter’s technology use in a different light.

Day in and day out, our kids are consuming technology at extremely elevated levels with many of our kids possibly logging more hours online than we do at our actual jobs.

As our kids scroll and swipe the hours away, they are also increasing the likelihood that they will encounter some nasty digital pitfalls.

These can vary, but these risks often include cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, phishing, and questionable online challenges.

Find a Balance:

Kids thrive in environments that help regulate their sensory systems—sight, sound, touch, hearing, taste, smell, vestibular, and proprioceptive, among others—because it makes them feel calm and ready to learn. Understand that kids may be using media devices to help regulate sensation when ordinary supports like playgrounds and resource rooms are unavailable. Instead of viewing media use as inherently problematic, work with your child to explore other environments, inside and out, that support their sensory regulation so that media use is just one of many options available to them. – Kristen Harrison, Professor of Communication and Media, University of Michigan+

small boy drinking from sippy cup while watching mobile device

5 Essential Tips for Establishing Technology Boundaries this Summer

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to kids and technology.

Today’s media can be empowering, educational, and enriching for our children through games, exchanging ideas, and exposure to the world.

The key, though is to find a happy balance when it comes to technology and our families.

This can leave us looking for ideas to establish boundaries for technology this summer so everyone can be happy this vacation.

The following suggestions can be used to help our families regain a healthy balance with technology by setting boundaries this summer vacation:

Design a family technology contract.

This document should be created together as a family unit and identify all technology usage expectations and the consequences for failing to follow the contract.

This will help get everyone on the same page and prevent any arguments later.

It will also give children a clear picture of how to correctly handle the responsibility that comes with technology and media use.

Start ongoing dialogue regarding social media and technology.

We would never hand over the keys to a car without teaching a child how to drive responsibly.

The same goes for the Internet.

Teach children how to discern real news from fake stories, teach social media etiquette, talk about cyberbullying, and discuss sexting.

As a child ages, you can add more details to this conversation, but right now we want to open that line of communication so our kids will feel compelled to talk to us if they ever encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

young boy in yellow shirt watching mobile device during established screentime boundaries

Consider limiting the time children are allowed to use their technology.

Technology in the right dosage isn’t harmful, but too much of a good thing isn’t healthy.

Instead of outlawing screen time altogether, consider a daily allotment of a couple of hours every day for enjoying screen time.

We can build it in our schedules or allow them to decide when and where they will use their daily limit.

The key, however, is to stop when the time is up.

Require family members to accomplish set tasks before turning on a device.

Create a checklist of items to finish so everyone can keep on track.

Many families require chores, reading, playing outside, or practicing (dance, instruments, art, etc.) before they can log on for the day.

Designate technology-free zones in the house.

Today’s devices are wireless and small, which makes it easy to tote everywhere we go.

Consider limiting them to common family areas and away from family dinners and the bedrooms.

This will protect family time, give children opportunities to relax without interruption, and reduce the likelihood that our kids will be accessing inappropriate content.

Detox From Screens

Consider setting aside a full day (perhaps Saturday or Sunday) as screen-free time. If you can’t commit to a day, at least try a designated evening. This regular break allows children to do a “screen detox” and creates a void to be filled with other activities. Not a bad routine for the whole family to do together. – Daniel G. Shapiro, M.D., Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics

Try a digital detox

it’s easy to get caught up in technology and isolate yourself from the outside world. Fill your mind with something positive instead take a break from those screens and the pressure for perfection that social media is known to create. 

Family Fun with Screen Time

When you do watch media, make it a family affair. We know from research that when children and caregivers watch screens together, children are more likely to learn from what they are viewing. So, bring out the popcorn and have a special movie night, or designate some time during the day when you can sit down and watch educational media together to help make it a positive experience for kids. Children are more likely to learn from what they are viewing if you direct them to specific content (“Elmo is red”) and make it relatable (“that car is blue, we have a blue car too!”).  For older children, you can get them talking or thinking about what’s on the screen by asking engaging, open ended questions (“The dragon seems upset, why do you think that is?”). When family screen time is over, try to engage children in offline activities that get them playing or moving, to help keep their brains and bodies healthy. – Sheri Madigan, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development, Associate Professor, University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute

What suggestions do you have for establishing technology boundaries this summer vacation?

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