Overcome Summer Screen-Time Battles

5 ideas to make summer memories without the glow of a screen.
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Photo by Tono Balaguer/Shutterstock.com
Make a plan for summertime activities to keep kids active and less interested in digital devices.

Picture the scene: Your kids spend most of the summer begging for more screen-time, while you beg for relaxing afternoons on the back porch, casual dinners together and opportunities to build family memories. The good news is that you don’t have to tiptoe through the minefield of screen-time battles during the break. With some advanced, creative planning, this summer can be one filled with memories that last a lifetime.

Mood Swings and Meltdowns

More time on a screen means less time for outdoor movement, creativity and building face-to-face friendships. Video games and social media stimulate the overproduction of the same brain chemicals that cause addiction. After about 30 minutes on a screen, the limbic system — or pleasure center — in a child’s brain is overstimulated. When this happens dopamine and adrenaline spike, and extra cortisol — the stress hormone — is produced, creating the perfect storm for mood swings and meltdowns. Without any limits in place, you can ensure a summer that includes arguments and family stress.

The best digital safety tips always center around co-viewing, reducing overall screen-time and getting your child interested in non-screen activities. Summer is the perfect time to do all of these things.

Winning the Battle Over Screens

A lack of schedule and routine contributes to the heavy use of screens during the summer months. Kids crave low-effort, high-reward activities, and screens easily become the default activity and get overused. It is your job to help structure their days because it is difficult for a child to do this, as the planning part of their brain isn’t developed yet. Some things to include are exercise — structured and unstructured — time outdoors, picnics, walks and fishing with friends.

Summer is also a good time to learn a new hobby. Let the kids help you plan and cook meals. Be sure to have tools in place for creative play, including art, music, crafts and sports, and books for reading. Also make sure to build in focused family time, such as dinner together, walks, board games, movie nights and family competitions.

Recruit other family friends to socialize with that also want to cut screen time for the summer. Support and camaraderie are important in keeping on track, planning and making replacement activities more fun.

Cut your child’s smartphone off this summer. Yes, it is possible. They can get by with a text/talk basic phone or occasionally texting friends using your phone. Give them a needed break from the stress of keeping up with too many people and social media this summer.

Plan your own screen-free backyard camps. These do-it-yourself camps are easy, inexpensive and packed with tons of non-screen fun. Simply have a loose plan, recruit two or three mom volunteers, pick a house, gather between six to 10 kids and you are ready. Camp ideas include art camp with age-appropriate art projects, sports camp with a different sport to try everyday, cake-decorating camp (get help from a local grocery store cake decorator), camping with backyard tents and a bonfire, cooking camp, outdoor-games camp and board-game camp. Set the camp up to run Monday through Thursday. Ask everyone to bring a bag lunch and needed supplies.

Win the battle over the screens this summer by waging a pre-emptive strike before it begins. Your kids won’t thank you for allowing them to waste their summer on a screen, but summer memories made with friends and family last forever. A low-screen summer may just be the best summer yet.


Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families reduce childhood screen overuse. For more information on local events and reconnecting your family, visit familiesmanagingmedia.com.