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Cultivating Digital Balance: Summer Screen Time Rules

Reading time: 13 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
June 3, 2024
Reviewed by parenting expert
Summer Screen Time Rules

What you’ll learn

Get tips on setting summer screen time rules for kids. Balance digital play with outdoor adventures and creative activities for a wholesome break.

Summer’s here, and that means kids often gravitate towards screens for entertainment. Whether it’s spending time on video games, watching videos, or connecting with friends online, screens can quickly take over their daily schedule. If you’re worried about your child’s screen time usage, this article will teach you how to help them strike a balance. Mixing in some outdoor fun, creativity, and face-to-face time with friends is key to a fulfilling summer. By fostering this digital balance, we’re giving our kids the opportunity to create lasting memories filled with laughter, adventure, and real-world connections.

Understanding the Significance of Summer Screen Time Rules

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics – (AAP)  alert parents that the more time kids spend on digital devices, the more health-related or behavioral problems might occur. This points out again, how necessary it is to set summer screen time rules for kids. Let’s analyze together the risks we are facing while letting our children be on those gadgets for too long.

Screens and Physical Activity 

With screens capturing children’s attention, physical activity often takes a back seat. During summer vacation, this effect can be more pronounced as school sports and PE classes do not exist as an obligation anymore. Lack of physical activity contributes to obesity, poor cardiovascular health, and a decrease in overall state of body and spirit! 

Trouble Sleeping

Teen boy asleep with a smartphone beside him

Credit: Freepik

Also, the blue light emitted from screens can interfere with melatonin production, disrupting children’s sleep patterns. Whenever children stay up late playing games or watching videos, it’s not just a matter of being a bit groggy the next day. Sleep is usually named as a “charger” for the brain, and with lack of it, human beings and especially children might start having performance issues, such as bad grades, mood swings, and of course health issues very soon.

Impulsive behavior

You have probably noticed that while children are playing a video game, rewards appear every few clicks. That’s exciting, isn’t it?  However, it creates a rather painful experience for them in the real world. No wonder why… It is rather frustrating to finish the book, brainstorm, make an outline, write an essay and then wait for the essay to be graded…or whenever they want to get a new set of skills, it takes time and step by step approach to get to the goal they are setting up. Patience and persistence are the key ingredients here!

 Studies have shown a huge correlation between excessive screen time and impulsive behavior in children. This might manifest as difficulty waiting for their turn in line, interrupting others, while talking, or making hasty decisions without thinking them through. 

Affecting social skills

Have you ever been at a family gathering where all the kids are glued to their screens, barely looking up to even say hello? Well, If a child spends too much time swiping and tapping, they might start feeling isolated and find it tough to hang out at social events, not to mention the fact that children hardly talk to each other when they meet. From my point of view, NO SCREEN can ever replace a good old-fashioned hug or high-five to a friend or an acquaintance! Don’t you just miss past generations outings? 

Create Effective Summer Screen Time Rules

Summer school break means more free time; for many kids, more free time translates into more screen time. The lure of the digital world becomes particularly strong during the vacations, making it an uphill battle to get children out of the house and spend some more time under the summer sun. With screen addiction becoming a widespread pandemic, it’s during this break that parents have to be especially careful with excessive screen time on their children’s schedules. 

Two school-aged girls making soap bubbles in the backyard

Credit: Freepik

By emphasizing family values and goals, parents can set limits and age-appropriate screen time rules specifically for the summer vacation. By adjusting daily schedules for media use, planning regular family time without screens, and incorporating outdoor activities, parents can create a summer plan that balances the use of technology with real-life experiences. Involving kids in the rule-making process will help them understand the reasoning behind the rules much better and foster a sense of ownership, by satisfying their psychological Need for Autonomy. 

Tailor Rules for Different Age Groups

Managing screen time is about fostering a mindful, balanced relationship with technology, especially during the summertime, when children have more free time than usual. While young children can be easily convinced to adopt summer screen time rules and switch from screens to Legos, this can be much harder with teens and adolescents who use screens for their spare time and interacting with friends on social media. 

As you probably know, every age comes with its difficulties and challenges, so let’s see together how to manage screen time during school breaks at different stages of child development process. 

👉 Discover how to avoid turning screens into “the babysitter” with three essential steps. Read “Should Parents Limit Screen Time?” now!

Screen Time Guidelines for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Experts say that it’s important to limit screen time exposure for children in their early childhood. At this age, they will benefit much more from simple play that involves social interaction and slow-paced activities using various materials and toys. 

  • For children  from 2 to 5 years old, try to limit screen time to 1 hour per day.
  • Try to watch TV together with children, so you can help them understand what they see on the screen. Thus, talking about values and morals of the stories they see.
  • Stick to screen-time rules is essential even during vacations or weekends.
  • Try to encourage a calming bedtime routine without screens as much as possible.

Screen Time Guidelines for School-Age Children

There are not so many types of fun that can actually compete with video games or watching cartoons. Playing or watching videos takes almost no effort, just a simple click and it provides countless hours of entertainment. So, what can we, as parents do in this case? Here are some summer screen time rules if you’re trying to attract your school-age children toward the benefits of traditional play and face-to-face interaction.

  • Allow 1-2 hours of non-academic screen time per day, ensuring it doesn’t interfere with sleep, school, physical activity, or other healthy routines.
  • Be aware of the content they’re engaging with, and make sure it’s age-appropriate.
  • Set a clear rule, that in places like dining rooms and bedrooms, screens are not allowed. This way you will encourage family interaction and rest.

Screen Time Guidelines for Teens

Nowadays most teens already have their own smartphones. It gets difficult for parents to set limits if healthy habits aren’t established by this age. However, there are still ways to make sure they cut back on the time spent online. By connecting with your teenager, you can surely correct his behavior towards the usage of a gadget by satisfying his innate need for Competence and Autonomy through following a couple of rules. 

  • Discuss and set reasonable screen time limits TOGETHER.
  • Emphasize that screen time should not interfere with chores, homework, or other responsibilities that your teen has.
  • Encourage using screens for educational purposes rather than passive consumption. Documentaries, learning games, and online communities that foster meaningful social connections could be a great choice to start with. 
  • Trust them with Self-Monitoring: Teach teens to be mindful of their screen time and to recognize when they might need to step away.

Screen-Free Activities for Summer Fun

School-aged kids in the forest sitting on the grass observing an insect in a jar

Credit: Freepik

With the rising concerns of children getting too much screen time during school breaks, there is a growing desire among families to unplug and find ways to engage and interact with one another offline. Screen-free activities that are described below, foster creativity and physical activity to enhance social interactions especially between family members during the summer time. 

1. Get Active 

Encourage physical activity, teamwork, and face-to-face interactions.

  • Hiking: Discover local trails and have a family hike. Pack a picnic for added fun.
  • Cycling: Choose bike paths in parks or near the water for family rides.
  • Sports: Soccer, basketball, or even Frisbee in the park can be a fun way to spend an afternoon as well.

2. Family-Friendly Outings 

Healthy screen time rules and boundaries will bring more quality to family time outings, learning, and cultural enrichment. Those could be:

  • A visit to a Museum or Zoo: Explore art, history, or animals together.
  • Attend a Live Performance: Local outdoor theater can be a delightful experience.
  • Farmers’ Markets: Explore local products and crafts along with food tasting could be a great way to learn and explore. 

3. DIY Projects

Stimulate creativity and problem-solving and offer hands-on learning experiences.

  • Build a Birdhouse: An eco-friendly project that teaches about wildlife is always a good idea! 
  • Garden Planting: Encourage children to grow their own herbs or flowers.
  • Artwork: Use natural materials like leaves and rocks to create beautiful crafts.

4. Water Fun

Children having fun playing with water guns in the swimming pool

Credit: Freepik

Provide great exercise and cool-downs during the summer heat.

  • Beach Days: Building sandcastles and playing games on the beach.
  • Kayaking or Canoeing: Explore local lakes and rivers as a family.
  • Water Balloon Fights: A refreshing and fun game for kids and adults alike

5. Play Games

Enhance strategic thinking, cooperation, and social connections.

  • Board Games:  Can provide hours of family entertainment and get everyone involved in a family activity.
  • Outdoor Games: Cornhole, lawn bowling, or even creating a life-sized chessboard can be thrilling alternatives to Minecraft or other video games that keep children indoors.

Be patient and supportive when they struggle with the rules

We have to face it, our kids were born with the technology at their fingertips, and it will always be a part of their lives. Whether it’s for play, socializing, or learning, the online world offers options and diversity that the real world sometimes can’t, especially during the extended leisure time of a summer break. However, that doesn’t mean that screen use shouldn’t have proper and healthy boundaries.

It’s essential to set clear and consistent summer screen time rules about technology use, especially when the school break brings the temptation to stay plugged in all the time. Kids might not always embrace the alternatives you offer, and there may be moments when they’ll try to cheat their way towards more screen time. Being firm and warm about the consequences, like losing screen time privileges for a weekend if time is exceeded, is crucial. Consistency in respecting the rules that were set up by family sends a clear message that the rules are there for a clear reason, to be present in a real world much more than in a virtual one. 

At the same time, it’s important to use empathy and understand their desire to explore the digital world. Try to recognize that their frustration about the screen time limits isn’t just about defiance; it’s often tied to a genuine interest in the activities and connections that technology offers. Be patient and supportive, inviting children to discover new ways of getting unbored, both online and offline.

Monitoring and Adjusting Screen Time Rules

Setting up screen time rules is like child-proofing for the digital age. You wouldn’t leave your toddler alone with a bunch of sharp objects, and the same goes for letting your children get lost in the wild virtual world of the internet. 

It’s not about spying or invading privacy; it’s about keeping an eye on what they’re up to online. School-age kids are prime targets for cyberbullying and other online dangers, so a bit of vigilance can go a long way. Sure, as they grow and their cognitive skills sharpen, they’ll earn more trust and freedom. But until then, adding parental control to devices and monitoring content and time spent on it can be a game-changer.

Wondering, what are the ways to supervise them? There are plenty of technology tools and parental control apps out there to help you track screen time and content. It’s like having a helpful ally to make sure they’re playing safe online.

Now, rules should be appropriate and adaptable to the child’s age. If two summers ago, they weren’t allowed to spend any time on social media, they might be at the age when staying connected with friends over the phone is much more important to them than playing Minecraft.

Our children grow, and their needs and interests change as well. So, please, take some time to check in and adjust those rules if necessary,  based on what’s going on in their lives at the moment. Whether it’s family time media, using screens for homework, or dodging inappropriate content, being flexible as parent and responsive at the same time, can help everyone in the family to stay on the same page and make that virtual world a fun and safe space to explore.

Fostering Digital Balance on Summer Vacations

Vacations, work-from-home days, and other routine breakers can quickly make parents forget about consistency of rules.  No doubt that screens sometimes can be a lifesaver when you’re stuck in traffic on a long drive, or when a sudden storm ruins your outdoor plans. They’re the go-to entertainment that can occupy a grumpy child faster than you can say “iPad.” But, there is a kicker: The convenience of screens can easily unravel all the hard work you put into setting screen time rules during the school year. 

Smiling girl in the backseat of a car watching a video on the tablet

Credit: Freepik

So, how can you keep screen time in check even when your regular schedule is out the order? Here are some tips:

Plan Ahead: If you know that your vacation or a rainy day might disrupt your usual routine, prepare some alternative activities in advance. Packing some board games, books, or outdoor gear can help keep screens from becoming the default thing to turn to. 

👉 Not sure how to set limits for kids watching TV? Discover effective screen time management tips in “Effective Screen Time Management for Kids.” Read now!

Set Vacation-Specific Rules: Make sure your whole family knows that vacation doesn’t mean a free of rules time on screens. You might choose to adjust the rules a bit, maybe make an exception or two, but make sure you are consistent with those previous rules you’ve set and that everyone knows what’s allowed and what’s not.

Be a Role Model: If we, as parents, are glued to our phones, we can’t expect our children to unplug as well. The most important Influencer in your child’s life is YOU – their parent! Show them how to enjoy a proper social interaction during your vacation without even reaching for a device. 

Involve Your Children: Ask your children what they’d like to do.  They might even surprise you with some non-screen ideas of their own.

Use Screens Mindfully: It’s not about banning screens entirely but using them in a way that fits with your vacation vibe. Maybe you can watch a family movie together or use an app to explore the stars at night.

Embrace Learning Through Screens

Now that we’ve emphasized the importance of summer screen time rules for kids, we also have to acknowledge the benefits. Not all interactions with technology are about mindless fun or time-wasting games. In fact, they can be pretty amazing tools for learning and connection.

Think about it: Your child can explore the world, learn a new language, or even dive into history with just a few taps and swipes. They can chat with Grandma across the ocean or solve a math problem with a cousin three states away. When it comes to beating boredom, screens offer a whole world of creative fun, from drawing apps to DIY science experiments.

There are lots of high-quality educational resources out there, from web sites like Khan Academy to apps like Duolingo. In search of a need for something to spark a love for science? Try apps like Tynker or Osmo that turn learning into a game. Want to inspire creativity? Sites like Scratch allow kids to create their own animations and stories. Let them be the creators of their own games, and not just the consumers.

So, while it’s important to set limits and keep an eye on our children while they’re using screen time, let’s not forget the incredible potential these screens have. 

Conclusion

Summer is a time for fun, adventure, and, yes, even a bit of screen time. While screens can be magical portals to learning and creativity, they shouldn’t replace outdoor play, face-to-face interactions, and those lazy, daydreamy moments. Setting up smart, flexible summer screen time rules and choosing quality content can turn screens from time-wasters into allies for seasonal fun. So, yes dear parent, go ahead, and embrace screens, but also remember to unplug, explore, and create memories that don’t need a Wi-Fi connection.

Worried about how much time your kid spends glued to screens? Let’s tackle it together with our online class, “Why Screens Harm Your Child: 5 Steps to Get Your Kid Off Tablets, Phones & TV.” Dive into easy-to-understand, science-backed tips that make cutting back on screen time simple and manageable. Click to sign up, and let’s turn screen time struggles into family fun time!

Introducing Sophie, our friendly AI assistant, here to answer any parenting questions you may have.

References

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European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Chaudron, S., Di Gioia, R., Gemo, M. (2018). Young children (0-8) and digital technology: a qualitative study across Europe, Publications Office. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2760/294383

Fox-Turnbull, W. (2019). Enhancing the learning of technology in early childhood settings. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood. https://doi.org/10.1177/1836939119841457

Hale, L., Kirschen, G. W., LeBourgeois, M. K., Gradisar, M., Garrison, M. M., Montgomery-Downs, H., Kirschen, H., McHale, S. M., Chang, M., & Buxton, O. M. (2018). Youth screen media habits and sleep: Sleep-friendly screen-behavior recommendations for clinicians, educators, and parents. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 27(2), 229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2017.11.014

Hatch, K. E. (2011). Determining the Effects of Technology on Children”. Senior Honors Projects. Paper 260. https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/srhonorsprog/260 

Hill, D., Ameenuddin, N., Reid Chassiakos, Y. (Linda), Cross, C., Hutchinson, J., Levine, A., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M., & Swanson, W. S. (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138(5). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2591 

Ostic, D., Qalati, S. A., Barbosa, B., Shah, S. M., Galvan Vela, E., Herzallah, A. M., & Liu, F. (2021). Effects of Social Media Use on Psychological Well-Being: A Mediated Model. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 678766. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.678766

Plowman, L., Stephen, C., & McPake, J. (2009). Growing Up With Technology: Young Children Learning in a Digital World (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203863619

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Sabina Defta

Sabina Defta is an International Trainer, Coach and Spiritual Guide for Parents all over the World. She is a dedicated mother to three children, two boys, 15 and 11 years old and 8 years old girl. To date, she has run over 500 workshops, events, and masterclasses for more than 100,000 parents, in three languages.

With a diverse, multicultural background and a deep understanding of child development processes, Sabina brings a wealth of insights to her role as an Inspirational and Motivational Parenting trainer. Her mission is to help parents to heal their inner child along with fostering stronger, healthier relationships with their own children.

Through her experiences such as living in different countries, exploring different cultures, Sabina is dedicated to transforming parenting approaches, guiding parents to balance work with personal lives, and supporting families from diverse backgrounds on their parenting journey.

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