Healthy Summer-time Screen-time boundaries for Tweens & Teens

It’s the beginning of August – halfway through summer. A season that’s supposed to be a time where life slows down and the kids get outside. But, it can be long and very stressful for working parents (and who isn’t a working parent these days?) Between work, juggling who’s driving who where, camp drop-offs, etc, it’s overwhelming. Along with that, camps are expensive, and babysitters/ nannies aren’t cheap either. If you’re a single parent, or in a relationship where both of you are working and struggling to save (who isn’t), summer gets complex. It can be a struggle between free play/downtime & structured time. Screen time can creep in and those device hours can become unruly.

And, this brings up my question: how have you handled screen-time with your kids so far? Have you unplugged the XBOX and moved it to the basement so it too gets a vacation? Or set time parameters either verbally or through a 3rd party, setting certain hours and limiting screen time? Have you booked a vacation to a remote sport where WIFI isn’t an option? Have you given in & given up, like so many of us do? It’s understandable… the struggle, as they say, is real.

That said, it’s worth the effort – data increasingly shows this. Multiple groups, from the American Heart Association to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology are ringing alarm bells around screen time and obesity – and recommending strict daily limits. We aren’t doing so well at it, as a society. A recent study by the National Institute of Health looked at adolescent behavior, particularly around screen time, sleep time, and physical activity. Of the over 4,500 children studied, only 37% met the recommended max screen time per day of two hours. And perhaps even sadder? Only 18% met the recommended minimum 1-hour physical activity per day – likely because they were hunkered down, playing Rocket League or on YouTube.

It can get overwhelming – how do we create healthy boundaries around screens, while maintaining parental sanity? On the one hand, there are tons of online articles with screen time checklists & parental control ideas: no screen time until lists, swapping chores for screen time lists, screen time rules, 5 rules to follow, and more rules. That can work well if your child is younger (although I was more of a fan of the marble jar idea – check out that article to come). If, however, you are a parent of tweens and teens, this approach can backfire – they’ll push back if forced, and find ways to work around the rules. They tend to be well able to do that pretty well (Want to know the fastest growing online communication tool amongst the kids these days? It’s not SnapChat – it’s Google docs… they can & will find workarounds). Draconian approaches don’t respect their independence – they are growing up & looking for responsibility & are ready for it. Not to mention, they’re going to need to own these habits throughout their lives – you do them no favors if you don’t teach them how to stand on their own.

I’m a fan of getting your tween & teen on board to help set their own boundaries around screen time with you. The key is together. Call a family meeting and ask them if they feel they have had a healthy summer screen time summer so far. See what they say –  and then check out what their phone and other screens says. Sit together, and look at the phone – it tells you what you have used and for what, with the right apps installed. Tom’s Guide has an excellent list of options, and it’s well worth reading. This can be mind-blowing for them and you! From there you can start a conversation around setting healthier boundaries for the remainder of summer but breaking it down one week at a time (or it can seem too overwhelming). What’s realistic for 7 days? Let them work on setting a goal. At the end of the week, call another family meeting and review. Look at the results and talk about them: what helped cut down on screen time for them and what’s the goal for next week. What app did they use most? Was it music or was it YouTube? Or did the screen hours go up and if so what went up and why? 

Action plan breakdown that encourages teen & tween cooperation & responsibility:

  • Call a Family meeting at the beginning of the week 
    • Look at screen time on phone, iPad, video games, etc together
    • Together, set healthy goals for a week
  • Call a Family meeting at the end of the week and check-in
    • What worked well? What could go better?

Encourage collaboration, connection & cooperation. Hope that helps keep the conversation flowing between you and your tween & teen. And, I am right there with you – I’ll let you know how it goes with my teen & tween!

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