Summer is the perfect time for families to unplug, get off their screens and spend time with one another. But when you hear the phrase “screen-free summer,” realistically, what comes to mind? Does the idea of truly unplugging sound fun, impossible, relaxing, daunting? Perhaps all of these?
Several years ago, when my kids were young, we turned off the T.V. at the beginning of summer and kept it off for the entire months of June, July, and August. This was before social media and smartphones, when T.V. was the center of our kids’ lives.
I’ll be honest, the first two weeks of summer were miserable. We were so used to noise and distraction, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. But eventually, our kids got used to it. They began inviting friends over, we spent more time together as a family, and by the time September rolled around, they didn’t even want to turn the T.V. back on!
Now, you may be thinking getting your kids away from their phones and iPads for an entire summer would be much harder than this, but don’t give up on the idea just yet. You can successfully have a screen-free (or, mostly screen-free summer) if you understand the why and the how.
Why consider a screen-free summer? A lot of reasons. I’ve written about the effect of screens on kids as well as the effect of social media on teens. Communicating only via a screen is having a negative effect on our children’s ability to develop crucial skills like empathy. Social media outlets like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have had an incredibly detrimental effect on our teen’s mental health. And recent research has found that too much screen time for children ages two to five can have negative effects on their brain development.
You probably know most of these facts and love the idea of your kids having less screen time this summer, but what you’re really wondering is how. How can you realistically implement a screen-free summer?
The trick is to not go completely screen-free, at least, not right at first. My family went cold turkey with T.V. watching, but smartphones are their own beast and many children who are addicted to them or to video games or to other devices could have a negative reaction to going screen-free right away, ruining your chance for an unplugged summer.
Wean your children off their devices. Start with an hour less per day, or two hours less if you think they can handle it.
Have an alternative activity in mind. What is something your child could do instead of being on his phone or in front of the T.V.? Could you go get ice cream together as a family? Take a walk in the park? Play with the neighbors? Have an idea in mind for when you start weaning your child off the screen so he doesn’t complain that there’s nothing else to do.
Remember, boredom is not the enemy. It’s ok for your child to feel like she has nothing to do without her phone. Imagination and creativity thrive in boredom. It is good for kids to have to figure out what to do with their time. You don’t have to fill every screen-free moment for them. Give them some space and see what they come up with. They might surprise you.
Give the screen-free summer, or your family’s version of it, a try. Your kids might surprise you like my kids surprised me during our T.V.-free summer and not even care about their phones come September. It will feel counterintuitive, and it is certainly countercultural, but your kids, their brain development and their mental health will be grateful for a season away from their screens, and you will be too.
If you haven’t already, join our Facebook group Fearless Parenting Community where you can share how your screen-free summer is going, get tips from other parents and feel encouraged by a strong and loving community of great parents just like you!