We all know what the idle mind of a twelve-year-old can become. When I was a pre-teen (without cable television), there was little time for idling in the summer. There were too many forts to be built, ballgames to be organized, and bike rides to the library for my mind to stop before it hit the pillow at night. Sadly, in a culture driven by technology, those active pastimes are largely in the past.
Today’s tweens have traded hours of exercise and exploration for endless hours of video games, texting, web browsing, and movie watching. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, if your child is like the typical teenager, they now spend 9.5 hours a day plugged into entertainment. That number has the potential to skyrocket during the summer, especially if they are at home alone.
This issue is a recurring (almost daily) conversation with our kids. I don’t expect them to understand the importance of time-management or to have mastered the discipline to know when enough is enough. In the middle of a summer day my wife can walk in the living room and say, “Okay guys, that’s enough TV. Let’s turn it off.” Not ten minutes later if she walks through again the TV is back on, but this time they are playing video games. It never registers in their brains that what she really meant was to turn off all the screens for a while. If we left it up to them, they would be fine sitting in front of the computer watching Netflix all day. But when we help them to make other plans such as swimming with friends, they always have a great time. Our kids enjoy being active, but it’s almost as if technology has altered their brains so that screens are the default mode.
I’m assuming you are already helping your kid achieve a sense of balance in other areas of life. You help them get a good amount of sleep. You make sure they have a balanced diet. You’ve taught them to clean up and take responsibility for their room. But for whatever reason when summer rolls around, you don’t have a game plan when it comes to technology. It’s not too late for a fresh start. Here are a few tips to set healthy boundaries for your child or teenager during the summer months and to cut off the inevitable grumbling before it happens:
Set limits on the amount of time allowed online or playing video games each day. If you already have limits, it’s okay to extend the time a little. It’s summer, after all. For a younger child, video game time should be even more closely monitored. When our kids were 5-9 years old we used a cooking timer set to thirty minutes. A friend of ours uses poker chips with his little ones. They get a certain amount of chips each week. For every ten minutes of play, they have to turn in a chip.
Let them earn extra time for completing special projects like reading a novel or helping with home repairs. Be careful not to incentivize “good behaviour” by giving technology rewards for everything they do. If they already have to do chores, those shouldn’t “earn extra credit.”
Make certain times of the day “technology free” with no cell phone, computer, or video games. In our home, we don’t allow any screens during the summer before 1 PM. This forces our kids into mild withdrawals, but it also helps them to make other plans to stave off boredom.
Have your pre-teen come up with a list of fun things they would like to do or accomplish in summer. Since they can’t drive yet, you’ll need to help accommodate some of these things. One summer our middle-school daughter went roller skating with friends every Tuesday.
Give your teen some volunteer/service options for the summer. Besides being good for their future college resume, it’s also good for their heart and spirit. There are countless great non-profits in your community that would love the help of a teenager for a few hours each week.
If you’re having a sleepover at your house, ask those attending to put their phones in a basket at the door. They’ll look at you like you’re asking them to give up their best friend. Once they get over the shock, it will help them pay attention to each other instead of their phones. You’ll also not have to worry about inappropriate texting or girls contacting boys.
Summer doesn’t have to be a frustrating season for you or your teen, but it will require some creativity and planning on your part. My wife actually sits down with each of our kids in the Spring to help them put some events on their Summer calendar and think through what they would like to do or accomplish. We’ve learned that if we don’t have a plan, technology will control our family instead of the other way around.