Between unlimited television and smartphones that go everywhere, screens can sabotage any parent’s plan to keep kids active during summer break.
Keep your children from spending all summer staring at a screen with these tips:
1. Set limits early. “Before summer starts, decide exactly how much screen time you want your children to get each day,” says Kimberly Sirl, PhD, a pediatric psychologist with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Explain to them why you’re limiting their access.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for older children and none for children younger than 2. That includes watching television, playing on the computer, playing video games, and using smartphones or tablets.
2. Lock ’em up when necessary. If your child has reached the limit for the day, take portable devices away and put them in a safe spot until the next day. If your kids stay home alone, use apps or locking features that will automatically shut off a portable device after a certain amount of time.
3. Always have a Plan B. Keep a list of activities on hand for times when your children say they’re bored. Brainstorm this list with your children, so they’ll feel included in the planning.
4. Stick to a schedule. “Have a routine during the summer,” Sirl says. “Depending on your child, you may need more defined limits or more flexibility. Talk with your child about what a typical day will look like.”
5. Be a good role model. Limit your own technology use and follow the same rules you set for your children. If you don’t want children using their phones at mealtimes, put all phones—including yours—into a drawer until the meal is over.
6. Make screen time a family affair. “Having screens in the bedroom interferes with sleep,” Sirl says. “Also, parents are not able to monitor what children are doing online.”
Having computers, smartphones and televisions in common areas helps you keep an eye on which websites your children are visiting and what they’re seeing. You’ll be able to spot inappropriate websites, and you’ll have an easier time finding out if your children are involved in or are the target of online bullying.
Most importantly, tell your children to get outside!
“When kids are using screens, they’re not getting exercise,” says Abigail Schachter, MD, a community pediatrician with Esse Health Tesson. “Summertime is a good time for kids to be kids and to have free, unstructured playtime.”
For more tips on making sure your kids have healthy tech habits, call the Center for Families Resource Library at St. Louis Children’s Hospital at 314.454.KIDS (5437) and press “5,” or visit StLouisChildrens.org and search “Screen Time.”