Ep. 19 Why NOT to Limit Summer Screen Time

Has anybody else out there, like me, been fretting over the question: How am I going to control my kids’ screen time this summer? I know you are because it’s what we’re all talking about in our mom circles: How can I get little Johnnie to stop playing Minecraft? My Jaden is addicted to YouTube. How many hours of TV is too much for a 4 year old? I hear you. 

Summer is barely underway and I’m already seeing instagram photos of zombie children glued to ipads with the caption “Help!” Collectively, as mothers, we are posting questions on FB, “How many hours of Minecraft is too much for a 5 year old?” We are scrolling Pinterest for solutions searching everything from printable chore charts, to cheap summer adventures, and (my personal nemesis) ideas for homemade craft projects to keep kids busy and engaged during the LONG summer days. We have lengthy discussions with our sisters and moms friends about managing screen time. And where are we having these conversations? On Marco Polo.

We are in dire straits. We are in desperate need of advice, guidance, directions. Where do we turn for help? In our moments of crisis, when we need to know how to keep our children off their screens, we, their mothers, turn to our screens. In fact, at this very moment I type these words onto one screen while my children downstairs interact with at least two different screens, and my husband in our bedroom looks into yet another . . .you got it . . . screen.

I Dread Having to Be the Screen Police

I’ve been stewing over this media issue for a month now as summertime approaches. What bothers me about this question—How do I control my kids’ screen time?—is the nagging tug of obligation I feel in my gut that if my family is going to have a successful screen-free summer, it’s going to be up to ME. I’m the one that will have to plan the pinterest-worthy summer outings collecting a representation of local flora and insect life to paste on our poster board panorama. It will be ME spending hours on the computer designing personalized chore charts and graphs of practice and reading time and devising a captivating behavior-based award system with coinciding coinage.

Years ago, in an attempt to control the unscheduled hours of summertime, I devised a form of currency called Warner Bucks. This was money I designed and printed myself (the closest I’ve ever come to running a counterfeit cash operation) and featured faces of family members. The kiddos—all under age 7—could earn Warner Bucks for doing chores and demonstrating good behavior. Then they paid a Warner Buck for every 30 minutes of TV time. Brilliant, huh? It was a disaster. Essentially, I had created several full-time jobs for myself. I was running my own little company and I was in charge of payroll, human resources, management, job descriptions, job trainings, employee performance, and employee evaluations. I was spending all my time giving and collecting crinkled cash, all with the goal to limit screen time. Yet the television was blaring as loudly and for as many hours as ever before. It seemed that every conversation, every action, every motive in our house for that summer centered around buying more screen time.

Limits Increase Want

In her book  Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers,. Author and clinical psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino  says “Forbidden fruit is the tastiest. Completely banning screen time may simply double the desire of your kids to get online.”

Marketers use limitation and limited quantity as methods to increase demand. If screen time becomes a dangling carrot, then I actually  WANT MORE SCREEN TIME! But AHA! We’re onto their schemes and trickery and will not fall prey to their tactics. So our objective as parents isn’t to limit screen time, but to help our children discover what they want to do more than they want to stare at a screen. 

Instead of Limiting, Create a Family Plan

We most often default to doing something on a screen because we don’t know what else we would rather do instead. In the moment, making a decision or making plans requires too much effort. It’s easier to click on Candy Crush. So the best method to beat over-indulging in screens is to have plans made in advance. 

Something we’ve done for a couple of summers that has worked (much better than Warner Bucks) has been to create a summer bucket list. We have a family meeting and everyone gets to say things they want to do for the summer. It’s fun and energizing. Suddenly all kinds of possibilities open. The local aquarium that is so awesome but we haven’t visited yet. The special hike to that awesome waterfall. Trying to relocate that secret swimming hole. Picnics at favorite parks. Puzzles. Board games. Outdoor movie nights. Family video game tournaments.

We don’t exclude screens from our summer bucket list. We plan screen time intentionally.  

This year we are creating family and personal summer bucket lists. Our meeting is next Sunday and we prepped our kids a few weeks ago to start brainstorming. Since my kids are older (ranging from age 10 to 19), their personal lists will include 1) Something to practice 2)  something new to learn 3) a daily physical activity and 4) a list of books to read.  My advice for families with young children is to go easy on goals. With younger children, set yourself up for success by scaling back what you think is possible. It’s better to achieve one goal successfully than fail to achieve five goals. Success breeds success.

On Sunday we will pull out colored markers to decorate our summer lists. Basically, we are creating a vision for our summer. Vision and energy are more powerful than limitation.  Instead of focussing on what we can’t do or what we shouldn’t spend too much time doing, we are going to empower ourselves, as a family, with vision, energy, and fun.

You can learn more about the energizing power of desire by listening to Episode 2 “What Do I Want?” It’s one of my most downloaded episodes, I think because so many of us don’t know what we really want or we don’t believe we can have it, so we don’t even try. The best method to get away from screens this summer is to KNOW, ahead of time, what we want more. This helps us to not sacrifice what we want long term for what is easiest right now.

Conclusion

Today we’ve explored the broad principles of why NOT to limit screen time: because limit increases want. And we’ve learned that a more powerful way to embrace summer adventure is to brainstorm, as a family, activities you want to do more than sitting in front of screens.

Next week we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of how to set up this empowered summer. We’ll talk everything from the words you choose in talking about screens to the power of boundaries. Any why boundaries are NOT the same as limits.  These tools help kids and parents feel their screen use is abundant and satisfying rather than feeling left wanting more.

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